Friday, September 28, 2018

Helpng people to keep more money in their pockets

Since 2010 real incomes have risen by an average of 4% after tax and allowing for inflation

Incomes have risen by between at every level by between 2.5% and 5.2% in real terms. Those in the lowest income groups have seen their income rise by about 3% after allowing for inflation sine 2010 on average.  The lowest percentage rise has been for the richest 10%, although their income has still risen.

More fullt-time jobs

And the new jobs are not all part-time, or on zero-hours contracts.

Not that part-time-jobs don't suit some workers. Zero hours contracts give some workers as well as some employers the flexibility they need. But other people are looking for full-time work. Which is why it is great news that 79% of the new jobs created by business since 2010 are full-time


Helping people into work

Under the Conservatives, businesses have created 3.35 million new jobs

Quote of the day 28th September 2018

“I divide my officers into four classes as follows: The clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid.

Each officer always possesses two of these qualities. 

  • Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. 
  • Use can under certain circumstances be made of those who are stupid and lazy. 
  • The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. 

But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.”

(German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, who was chief of the German General Staff from 1930 to 1933, was apparently quoted as having said this in a Berlin newspaper in the early 1930s.

Hammerstein-Equord left his post in 1933 because he was an opponent of the Nazis.

There is a modern NHS version of this saying referenced here.)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Building a Stronger Economy

When the Conservatives came into government the country was borrowing over £150 billion a year and unemployment had increased by nearly half a million. Britain had suffered the deepest recession since the war and had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy. 

But we now have a modern Industrial Strategy to create better, higher paying jobs. The economy has grown by almost 17 per cent, unemployment rate has reached its lowest level since and we are seeing debt start its first sustained fall in a generation – a turning point in our recovery from Labour’s mess. 

Only the Conservatives will continue to take the balanced approach our economy needs to support businesses to create better, higher paying jobs, ensuring our future security and prosperity.

Since 2010, we have been building a stronger economy after Labour’s recession: 

The deficit has been cut by three-quarters, helping us live within our means. Over the last eight years, we’ve reduced our deficit by over £110 billion.13 
Our economy has now grown for eight consecutive years, and is nearly 17 per cent bigger than it was in 2010.

But we know there’s more to do, so we are getting control of the public finances while investing in our public services and supporting families with the cost of living. 

On average over 1,000 jobs a day have been created, the number of young people out of work has fallen on average by around 140 a day, while unemployment is at a 40 year low.

The number of people in fulltime work is up and the rate of women in work is up by 1.2 million – meaning more people have the security of a job.

Debt is now starting its first sustained fall in 17 years, but we need to keep it falling so we can spend more on public services instead of debt repayments. As a share of GDP, our debt will fall to 85.5 per cent and then fall for every year in the Parliament.

We are backing businesses to create better, higher paying jobs. Businesses create jobs, pay taxes that fund our public services, and provide the products people want – so we are backing them with our modern Industrial Strategy and a £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund.

After our review of modern ways of working, millions of workers will get new rights. We have strengthened corporate governance to ensure all businesses play by the rules – taking action on executive pay and strengthening workers’ voices in the boardroom.

General Strike call MP "got a little bit carried away"

I see that the Labour MP who called for a General Strike to bring down the government has been ever so gently disowned by her seniors.

Ms Smith, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, made her call for a strike while speaking at the Momentum-organised "The World Transformed" event in Liverpool, which runs alongside Labour's conference.

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson responded

"Well, it's not particularly helpful, but she is a new MP and she was at a big fringe event - nothing to do with the party organisation - and I'm sure she got a little bit carried away." 

That's presumably Old-Labour speak for "do that again and it'll be the men in white coats who carry you away."

The British General Election of 2017

Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh have disclosed in their book

"The British General Election of 2017"

an internal Labour email which casts rather serious doubt on the claim repeated with great regularity by Labour representatives that they had a "fully costed" manifesto at the last election.

The email privately communicated to Labour's senior campaign team, quote,

some of the problems with Labour’s cost estimates, including the lack of detail on capital spending, as well as some individual costings that were implausible or entirely absent”.

It also highlighted issues with “almost every area of the manifesto, including welfare, health, education, the economy, transport, policing and prisons."

The Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor may have believed that their manifesto was fully costed but some of their close associates certainly didn't.

It is suggested that as much as a trillion pounds of extra uncosted spending would have resulted from the pledges in the manifesto.

Mr Cowley and Mr Kavanagh wrote in the book about the email:

“A prolonged debate including all those around Corbyn and McDonnell as well as longstanding senior party staff was ultimately resolved at McDonnell’s insistence, despite the fears of several of Corbyn’s aides.”

One of the Labour leader’s aides told the authors: “I just kept thinking, they’ll tear us apart on this."

I just keep thinking that we should have.

The Conservatives must fight the next election mainly on positive policies of our own. The public deserves a chance to elect a government who believe in what they are doing and have something constructive to offer, over and above just slagging off the other side.

However, if Labour go into another election claiming to have a "fully costed" manifesto which is in fact riddled with holes you could drive a trillion pounds of spending through, we can't afford to let them get away with it.

The fact that, as of this week's conference Labour have made 37 uncosted spending pledges since the last election suggests they have not learned their lesson.

Two final links on the subject of the Labour party. After today I will concentrate for the next week  on positive policies from the Conservatives.

For those who wondered what Jeremy Corby really meant by some of the words in his speech to conference, John Rentoul translates here.

And Danny Finkelstein

"Corbyn's Grand Plan is to subvert parliament"

what the Corbynista model of democracy would mean in practice. It's essentially the opposite of the idea of democracy put forward by Burke (or Gaitskell.)

Those who don't agree with the idea that parliament is sovereign and MPs are representatives rather than delegates may think at first that this sound like a good idea - but since the Corbyn project would make MPs more answerable not to the electorate, but to the Labour party, I suspect the advocates of direct democracy would like Corbyn-style democracy even less than they like Edmund Burke's.

Quote of the day 27th September 2018

"Apologies can be quite empty if they're not backed up by substance."

In almost any normal context the above quote would be a serious contender to be considered the most vapid and meaningless tautology ever uttered by a British politician.

But in the actual context, that it was the reply given by Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti, when she was asked on PM why there was no apology for Anti-semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to Labour conference as leader - it spoke volumes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

PM addresses investors and United Nations in New York

Prime Minister Theresa May has addressed both the United Nations Security Council and business leaders in New York.
  • Speaking at the Security Council meeting at the United Nations the Prime Minister raised the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and Russian State, calling on states to re-join the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons. 
  • The Prime Minister has also pledged to deliver an economy that is ‘knowledge-rich, highly innovative, highly skilled and high quality but with low tax and smart regulation,’ and promised investors that Britain will have "the lowest rate of Corporation Tax in the G20."

Midweek music spot: Handel - Te Deum HWV 283

This Handel piece was written to celebrate the British victory at Dettingen, which was the last battle at which a reigning British King (George II) was present.

Michael Gove calls for 30% of the world's oceans to be protected

Earlier this year the government announced plans to designate 41 new marine conservation areas around Britain’s coastline that will block “harmful” activities like dredging, sea-bed trawler fishing and offshore development.

A six-week consultation is planned after which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) intends to designate some 11,000 square kilometres of coastline as newly protected – bringing the total so-called “blue belt” protected area to 220,000 square kilometres, or two-fifths of the country’s coastline.

This week Environment Secretary Michael Gove has called on world leaders to treble the world's ocean protection target to ensure 30 per cent of oceans are protected by 2030.

Speaking yesterday as world leaders gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly, he backed plans to see almost a third of oceans designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.

Currently global targets brokered by the UN will see just 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas protected by 2020. Negotiations on a new target for 2030 will begin in November.

Michael Gove said that nations must go further in their ambition to protect the marine environment from damage from overfishing and pollution.

"Only by working together can we protect our shared home and ensure our marine life continues to be a source of awe and wonder for future generations," he added.

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey is in New York this week and will push plans for a 30 per cent target among her political counterparts.

"I am delighted to be in New York this week to look at how we can build on the progress made on marine protection and protect the world's oceans," she said.

Here is a Sky News report on the issue:

Shadow Foreign Secretary admits Labour didn't deal well with Anti-Semitism row

One of the Labour leader's closest allies, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, has admitted that the Labour party contains "sickening individuals" who are Anti-Semitic and that when a “very unfortunate” row about how to deal with this broke out, “We didn’t deal with it well.”.

She told the Labour conference that

"If we want to root out fascism and racism and hatred from our world, and from our country, then we must start, we must start, with rooting it out of our own party,”

She added that

"We must all acknowledge that there are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. 

“Those people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party the same way Oswald Mosley was kicked out of Liverpool.”

Quote of the day 26th September 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

If you have to say your position is clear ...

The BBC website this evening is quoting Labour's Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer as saying that Labour's position is "clear" about Brexit.

They also quote him as saying that the party was "certainly not ruling out" the possibility of a new referendum and that "all options" are on the table."


The terms on which Britain should leave the EU represent a fantastically complex issue and I'm not sure any party can claim to be completely clear about their position.

But there are some expressions in life which would never need to be used if they are true, and therefore whenever you hear one of those expressions you can be confident that the person using them is not being entirely truthful.

For example, the only circumstances in which the someone in the retail industry will use the expression "there's no demand for it" to a customer is when that very customer is asking for the product concerned and thereby proving that statement false.

And similarly when a political party has to say that their position on an issue is "clear" you can take for granted that their position is not clear at all.

Quote of the day 24th September 2018

Sunday, September 23, 2018

How to squeeze the rich

Jeremy Corbyn wants the rich to pay more tax?

His policy of punitive taxation will have exactly the opposite effect. But actually there is an intelligent way for a government which understands incentives to get more tax from the richest people. But you don't do it by confiscatory high tax rates - quite the opposite.

Grateful to Fraser Nelson of the Speccie for sharing this chart which shows how the share of income tax paid by the richest 1% in Britain has been trending up - and jumped up after the top rate was cut from 50%. The left hand part of the line is under the last Labour government, the right hand part is under the Coalition and then the Conservatives.

And the truth, contrary to just about everything said on the subject these days by even "moderate" Labour politicians, is that the rich have been paying more income tax, and a higher share of income tax under both David Cameron and Theresa May than they ever did under Blair and Brown.

So this is how an intelligent government might try to squeeze the rich.

Cut tax RATES from confiscatory levels and the AMOUNT of tax, and the proportion, paid by the richest 1% goes UP.

The same thing happened even more dramatically after 1979 when Maggie cut the top rate from 98% (on so-called "unearned" income, and 83% on "earned" income) to 60% (and later to 40%).

It's not rocket science. If people can keep more than 50% of extra money they earn, they've got more incentive to increase their after-tax income by increasing the amount of wealth they create. But if people are paying half or more of every extra pound they make to the government, they have more incentive to spend a higher proportion of their time adjusting their financial affairs to avoid tax at the expense of time spent creating more wealth.

Sea Mill Lane in St Bees closed tomorrow for two days for repairs

Sea Mill Lane, St Bees, will be closed for repairs tomorrow (24th September 2018) for approximately two days.

Here is a map showing the area to be closed off

Sunday music spot: Pachelbel's Canon In D Major

Quote of the day 23rd September 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tackling "County Lines" drug gangs

For anyone reading this who is not familiar with the expression "County Lines" it refers to gangs from large urban areas who supply drugs to suburban and rural locations; using vulnerable children and young people to courier drugs and money.

"County lines" was first identified as a growing threat in 2014, and a National Crime Agency report the following year with the NCA report published the following year and updated in 2016 highlighted how county lines exploitation is a widespread and serious problem, with the gangs involved exploiting ever-younger victims, and it is a key driver of criminality and violence.

Typically, gangs use mobile phone lines to facilitate drug orders and supply to users. They also use local property as a base; these often belong to a vulnerable adult and are obtained through force or coercion (known as ‘cuckooing’). Children as young as 12 are being targeted.

Gangs ‘recruit’ through deception, intimidation, violence, debt bondage and/or grooming into drug use and/or child sexual exploitation.

This intolerable situation must be dealt with as a matter of urgency and this week Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that a new coordination centre will identify the root causes of county lines drug gangs to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.

He branded the drug dealers who run these gangs "Cowards who use our children as pawns," adding that they "ruin lives and damage society."

Key facts:

Writing in The Daily Mail, the Home Secretary has outlined how we are tackling county lines crime.

  •  £3.6 million has been invested in a National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which will allow police forces to share intelligence and target gangs operating over a wide area 
  • We have already given police forces stronger powers to stop county lines criminals in their tracks; this new coordination centre which is being funded through our £40 million Serious Violence Strategy will significantly strengthen law enforcement’s response to the county lines problem. 
  • But these problems cannot just be tackled with strong law enforcement alone, which is why early intervention and prevention is at the heart of our Serious Violence Strategy, and we have recently doubled the funding for early intervention initiatives to £22 million. 

Why this matters:

County lines crime is a blight on our communities, devastating the lives of vulnerable children and enslaving them into a vicious circle of crime that is almost impossible to escape; we are working to protect the most vulnerable by intervening early to identify criminal networks while providing support to those who need it.

Saturday music spot: "The Sound of Silence" (Original SImon & Garfunkel)

Quote of the day 22nd September 2018

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Prime Minister's statement on the Brexit negotiations in full

“Yesterday, I was in Salzburg for talks with European leaders. I have always said that these negotiations would be tough - and they were always bound to be toughest in the final straight. While both sides want a deal, we have to face up to the fact that - despite the progress we have made - there are two big issues where we remain a long way apart. The first is our economic relationship after we have left. Here, the EU is still only offering us two options. The first option would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area and a customs union with the EU. In plain English, this would mean we’d still have to abide by all the EU rules, uncontrolled immigration from the EU would continue and we couldn’t do the trade deals we want with other countries.


That would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago. The second option would be a basic free trade agreement for Great Britain that would introduce checks at the Great Britain/EU border.  But even worse, Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the Customs Union and parts of the Single Market, permanently separated economically from the rest of the UK by a border down the Irish Sea. Parliament has already - unanimously - rejected this idea. Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not respect that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom, in line with the principle of consent, as set out clearly in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.


It is something I will never agree to - indeed, in my judgement it is something no British Prime Minister would ever agree to.  If the EU believe I will, they are making a fundamental mistake. Anything which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two would be a bad deal and I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal. But I have also been clear that the best outcome is for the UK to leave with a deal.  That is why, following months of intensive work and detailed discussions, we proposed a third option for our future economic relationship, based on the frictionless trade in goods.


That is the best way to protect jobs here and in the EU and to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, while respecting the referendum result and the integrity of the United Kingdom. Yesterday Donald Tusk said our proposals would undermine the single market.  He didn’t explain how in any detail or make any counter-proposal.  So we are at an impasse. The second issue is connected to the first.  We both agree that the Withdrawal Agreement needs to include a backstop to ensure that if there’s a delay in implementing our new relationship, there still won’t be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But the EU is proposing to achieve this by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union.


As I have already said, that is unacceptable.  We will never agree to it.  It would mean breaking up our country. We will set out our alternative that preserves the integrity of the UK.  And it will be in line with the commitments we made back in December - including the commitment that no new regulatory barriers should be created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree. As I told EU leaders, neither side should demand the unacceptable of the other.


We cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of our union, just as they cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of theirs. We cannot accept anything that does not respect the result of the referendum, just as they cannot accept anything that is not in the interest of their citizens. Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect.  The UK expects the same.  A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.


At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals. So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them.  Until we do, we cannot make progress. In the meantime, we must and will continue the work of preparing ourselves for no deal.


In particular, I want to clarify our approach to two issues. First, there are over 3 million EU citizens living in the UK who will be understandably worried about what the outcome of yesterday’s summit means for their future. I want to be clear with you that even in the event of no deal your rights will be protected.  You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues.  We want you to stay. Second, I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that in the event of no deal we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.


Let me also say this. The referendum was the largest democratic exercise this country has ever undergone.  To deny its legitimacy or frustrate its result threatens public trust in our democracy. That is why for over two years I have worked day and night to deliver a deal that sees the UK leave the EU. I have worked to bring people with me even when that has not always seemed possible. No one wants a good deal more than me. But the EU should be clear: I will not overturn the result of the referendum. Nor will I break up my country.


We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations.  We stand ready.”

The PM on the state of the Brexit negotiations

Theresa May:

‘No one wants a good deal more than me. But the EU should be clear: I will not overturn the result of the referendum. Nor will I break up my country.’

Quote of the day 21st September 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Student mental health

The Universities Minister has written to all Vice Chancellors in England calling on them to make student mental health a priority.
  • · Over the summer the government announced a new award for universities who meet new mental health standards and this week, at the start of the new academic year, have asked universities to lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to improving mental health services. 
  • · For the sake of today’s and tomorrow’s students, we must work together to improve student mental health and well-being to ensure that university is a positive experience for everyone.

Making the railways work for passengers

The government has announced a sweeping independent review of Britain’s railways, to ensure our railways work for passengers.

Key facts:

  • This is the most significant review since privatisation, and will build on our franchising strategy – bringing track and train closer together to reduce disruption and improve accountability. 
  • The review will look at the structure of the whole rail industry, including improving value for money for passengers and taxpayers. 
  • The independent review will report next year, after which the government will publish a white paper on the review’s recommendations, with any reforms planned to start from 2020. 

Why this matters:

The railway structure we inherited is no longer fit to meet today’s challenges and cope with increasing demand. This review will ensure we get the best from the public and private sectors and deliver the railway Britain needs for the 21st century.

Quote of the day 20th September 2018

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Midweek music spot: Prelude to Charpentier's: "Te Deum"

Storm Ali hits Cumbria

Storm Ali has hit Cumbria and, as the weather forecasters predicted, it is extremely windy today in parts of the county. We were warned there might b3 65mph to 75mph gusts and I'd say that's happening.

Do take care if you have to travel today and make sure there is nothing loose in your garden which might blow away or be damaged by the wind.

Further action to build the homes we need

Earlier this week the government announced two funds to prepare land for development and ensure schemes come forward with all the infrastructure in place.

Today further measures are being brought forward: the Prime Minister will announce a £2 billion long-term funding initiative – in partnership with housing associations – to help build the homes this country needs and to deliver social housing that people are proud to call their home.

Key facts:

  • Housing associations have a central role to play in building the homes we need and challenging the attitudes that hold us back. 
  • We are therefore opening up new longer-term partnerships to the most ambitious housing associations through a ground-breaking £2 billion initiative. 
  • Under the scheme, associations will be able to apply for funding stretching as far ahead as 2028-29 – the first time any government has offered housing associations such long-term certainty. 

Why this matters:

Housing associations can achieve things neither private developers nor local authorities are capable of doing. Our new initiative will give them the stability they need to get tens of thousands of affordable and social homes built, as we are committed to get more people on the housing ladder and make sure those who cannot afford their own place also have somewhere they are proud to call home.

If you wanted any proof we are living in a post-satire era

I've noticed a few times this year pieces in websites specialising in satirical, parody and "spoof" news articles, like News Thump and the Daily Mash, in which the author was attempting to write a parody of real events but ended up simply describing them.

A good example is the recent piece in News Thump which argued that

"The nation is finally united behind the common belief that the sort of person who shouts at the children of an MP, regardless of that MP’s political beliefs, is clearly a massive bellend."

The thing is, like most of the rest of the article, that isn't a parody - it's what almost everyone I know actually does think.

Life in general, and political life in particular, is becoming so absurd that it's quite difficult to tell where reality ends and parody begins.

For similar reasons I am finding it increasingly challenging to tell the difference between some "parody accounts" on social media and the "real" people they are spoofing.

How do you parody some of the wilder and woolliest supporters of Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, or the SNP?

This has of course, not escaped the notice of the people who run the satirical websites.

This week another piece in News Thump which isn't really parody at all was called

World enters new post-satire era

and it begins

"The world has entered a new era where it has become impossible to distinguish between satire and reality."

and includes the line

If a merry online japester makes up something utterly outrageous and unbelievable about, say, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the odds are now 50/50 that it will come true within 48 hours."

The frightening thing is that they're not entirely kidding. That line appears to have been partly inspired by an instance of something of the kind actually happening: the article is illustrated by a partial screenshot of their own article dated 12th September,

"Skripal poisoning suspects ‘just massively into Salisbury’, insists Vladimir Putin."

alongside a screenshot of a real breaking news report from the following day, when the poisoning suspects appeared on the Russian government news agency RT, to say that they went to the wonderful town of Salisbury to visit its' famous cathedral.

The similarities between the spoof article published on 12th September and the real interview broadcast on 13th September are uncanny.

Quote of the day 19th September 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of state for DCMS, on our vision for Broadcasting

Jeremy Wright, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport sets out the government's vision for broadcasting in a speech today to the Conference of the Royal Television Society.

The speech includes how broadcasters can help tackle disinformation and fake news.

Key facts:

  • The Secretary of State will give a speech in which he will voice support for Public Service Broadcasters and high quality journalism from established news sources in the face of the growing threat of fake news. 
  • High quality journalism is the best possible weapon in our battle against disinformation, so the sustainability of our media is something that should concern us all. 
  • The government is asking our Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) to go further by doing more to build trust in the accuracy of news through high quality journalism and reporting. They should be doing more to reach a diverse and younger audience as well as exploring innovative ways to reach the public. 
  • In exchange, the government is committed to supporting the PSBs to ensure they continue to thrive, and stay prominent, as part of a healthy, sustainable and dynamic media landscape. 

Why this matters:

A strong media means a strong democracy and a strong nation. Those sowing discord want to undermine this trust and the institutions upon which our liberal democracy relies. This is why we are taking action to support Public Service Broadcasters so we can tackle the scourge of fake news in our society.

Supporting Britain's Jewish communities

Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a speech at the United Jewish Israel Appeal dinner highlighting the support of the British government for the Jewish community against Anti-Semitism.

Key facts:
  • Some in the Jewish community say they are fearful of the future and it is sickening that anyone should feel like that in our country. 
  • We do not underestimate the threat posed by those who promote anti-Semitism. Those voices do not speak for the overwhelming majority of people in our country and we are determined defeat the scourge of antisemitism and hatred in all its forms. 
  • Along with this, we support the right of Israel to exist. We want to build the strongest and deepest possible relationship between our two countries. 
Why this matters:

Anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable in a civilized society, which is why we’re taking a strong lead in tackling it in all its forms and support the Jewish community in this country.

Quote of the day 18th September 2018

Monday, September 17, 2018

Building the homes that people need

Today the government is opening two funds to overcome barriers to housebuilding, helping developers to build the homes that people need and get more people on the housing ladder.

Key facts: Issues like land contamination, infrastructure requirements, and complex land ownership can present real barriers to building homes where they are needed most.

  • These two funds, the Land Assembly Fund and the Small Sites Fund, will help release land to deliver 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. 
  • The £1.3 billion Land Assembly Fund, will be used to acquire land needing work and get it ready for development, making it less risky for developers to invest in and start building. 
  • The £630 million Small Sites Fund will be available to public land owners or local authorities that are struggling to start building on land in their area, to speed up getting the right infrastructure in place to support home building on stalled small sites, providing the homes their communities need.

Why this matters:

We need to act on a number of fronts to build the homes this country needs. This investment will help the government intervene to provide support in the sort of sites that are not yet ready to build on, allowing developers to get straight on with building homes, rather than having to waste time overcoming the barriers to build.

Dan Hannan reminds us what was said about a second referendum before the first one.

Quote of the day 17th September 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Electoral Commission has done the impossible

To judge from this week's High Court ruling, Britain's electoral commission appears to have managed something which I would have thought impossible.

The Electoral Commission seem to have provided both the Leave and Remain campaigns with valid reasons to be furious with them.

The High Court judgement, while not entirely absolving the Leave campaign of having acted incorrectly, strongly criticised the advice given by the Electoral Commission who they accused of having misunderstood the law.

Campaigners from the Good Law Project (GLP) won a legal challenge against the Electoral Commission over election spending by Vote Leave, arguing that the watchdog failed in its duty to regulate the referendum process.

The High Court agreed with the Good Law project and the Electoral Commission that Vote Leave had broken the rules, but also found that the Electoral Commission had misinterpreted the rules in the advice it gave to the campaign.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, was quoted in The Independent as saying

"It is now clear that the Electoral Commission gave unlawful advice that encouraged Vote Leave to carry on spending. And it gave it selectively – no such advice was given to Stronger In."

Matthew Elliott of Vote Leave was equally scathing, describing the position his campaign had been put in as a “complete Alice in Wonderland situation,” and adding

Vote Leave asked for, and received, the Electoral Commission’s advice. We followed that advice.

“During the judicial review, the Electoral Commission tried to avoid admitting that it had given that advice to us, but we were able to establish that they had – and the judges clearly ruled in the preliminary hearing that we had received that advice.

“Yet we are now told that, by having followed that advice, we broke the law.

Remainers are understandably furious that the Leave campaign was encouraged to go on spending in ways that they were not.

Leavers are understandably furious that they were encouraged to go on spending in ways which have put them in the position of being told they have broken the law and fined.

I think both have a point.

Both agree on one thing - the Electoral Commission has made a complete hash of things.

Maugham called for heads to roll at the Electoral Commission, and there is a powerful article at Conservative Home here which argues that this court judgement shows that the commission is not fit for purpose.

You can read the full court judgement here.

Saturday music spot: Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor

Whitehaven Parkrun

I took part in the Whitehaven Parkrun for the first time this morning.

They had just over 100 participants today, beating the previous record of 98. I'd like to thank all the organisers and volunteers who helped for making this a friendly and if you'll excuse the pun, a smooth-running event.

For those who may not be aware, the Whitehaven parkrun is now held on most Saturday mornings, with participants assembling at about 8.45am on the cycleway behind St Benedict's church in Mirehouse. The course follows the cycle path from Mirehouse to Moor Row and back.

Parkruns are being set around Britain and in other countries and are proving immensely popular as a way for people to get more exercise in a safe and healthy environment. You don't have to be superlatively fit and it is perfectly acceptable to do the course at a walk rather than running or jogging.

It's for all ages - there were people in their first decade of life and their ninth taking part this morning.

Parkruns are strongly recommended by local doctors and health professionals as one way to improve your health by getting more exercise.

Quote of the day 15th September 2018

Third in my series of three quotes from the great 19th-century historian Lord Acton:

Friday, September 14, 2018

Government to open consultation on calorie labels in food outlets

The government is to hold a public consultation on introducing calorie labels for restaurants, cafes and takeaways, as part of a mission to help people take control of their own health and live longer, healthier, happier lives.

Key facts:
  • A public consultation will now open, seeking views on how best to introduce the plans, including any additional considerations that should be taken into account for small businesses, street vendors and restaurants with fast changing menus. 
  • Calorie information is already widely available in supermarkets and voluntarily available from some restaurants. These plans will level the playing field and ensure the same information is available everywhere.
  • Obesity significantly increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, type II diabetes, dementia and mental health problems, particularly depression 
  • Consequently, obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of three years
  • Severe obesity reduces life expectancy by eight to ten years
  • This is not about forcing anyone to eat certain things, or avoid certain things – it is about ensuring we know the nutritional content of the food that we eat and we give to our children. 

The aim is not to spoil your fun but to give you the information to make informed choices about what you want from life.

Why this matters:

Obesity-related conditions are factors in some of the most common causes of early death and often wreck the quality of life while people are still alive.

They also cost the NHS £6.1 billion per year.

Evidence shows that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, who have a high risk of developing health conditions.

Russia, Syria, and the Labour front bench

It is a healthy thing for people involved in politics to read, at least occasionally, publications which generally take a different point of view from their own. If it does nothing else, it gives then a better understanding of different perspectives and makes them less likely to act like the characters in Tracy Ullman's "Alternative Opinions Support Group" sketch.

Another reason for this is that when a political party really makes a mess of something, harsh criticism on whatever they have got badly wrong from a paper or magazine which is generally on the same side are usually far more damning than attacks from those who always attack them anyway.

Hence it is a good idea for Labour politicians to read The Telegraph or The Spectator from time to time or for Tories to read the Guardian, Prospect or The New Statesman.

Of the left of centre publications in the UK, the one I have most respect for is The New Statesman because it generally publishes the broadest range of more thought-provoking opinions, even though I often disagree with them.

Sometimes, of course, I find pieces in a left of centre publication which I actually do agree with.

It does happen from time to time that one of them will make a criticism of Conservative policy that I think we ought to listen to.

And sometimes when the Labour party gets something really badly wrong and gets hauled over the coals for it by papers or magazines on their own side, a piece in the Guardian or the New Statesman which tears Labour policy to shreds is far more useful to quote than one in the Telegraph or any other publication from which such a response to Labour is par for the course.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry made such an egregious mistake in parliament on Monday this week in response to concerns at what most informed commentators believe to be another impending humanitarian catastrophe in Northern Syria.

The New Statesman has published an article by  Oz Katerji which accuses Thornberry of parroting Putin and Assad’s propaganda over war crimes in Syria which I think is the most devastating critique of Labour foreign policy I have read in a left of centre publication since those made of Tony Blair over Iraq following the Chilcott report.

Katerji warns of the massive threat to the lives of civilians in the Idlib province, the last area of the country not controlled by the regime and which is imminently expected to come under attack. He writes:

"As the eyes of the world turn towards the potential humanitarian catastrophe of an Assad regime offensive targeting the more than three million civilians living in Idlib, the international community has been justifiably warning of the regime committing yet another major chemical weapons atrocity.

So it is no surprise that the Russian state disinformation machine is working overtime to create the pretexts for a new chemical weapons attack in Syria. For weeks now, social media accounts belonging to Russian embassies around the world have been disseminating increasingly hysterical lies about Syrians, baselessly claiming that humanitarian NGOs are working in partnership with the Western media to film faked chemical weapons attacks.

While these claims are laughable, they are also dangerous and indicative of the murderous intention of the Russian government and the Assad regime. The UN has conclusively proved Assad has used chemical weapons time and time again. These ridiculous claims can only be taken seriously as a statement of intent by the Russian government on behalf of the Assad regime to commit new war crimes in Idlib."

He adds that on Monday in parliament there were

"many impassioned pleas from across the party political spectrum warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in northern Syria. Yet shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry instead decided she would take her comments straight out of the Russian propaganda book."

Katerji writes that Thornberry took a line which could have come

"almost directly from the Russian ministry of defence, launching an outrageous and completely bogus attack on the open source investigators that have been exposing the Kremlin’s crimes for years."

The Shadow foreign secretary said that “Relying on so-called open-source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative,”

when in fact most open source intelligence comes not from terrorists but from Syrian rescue workers, medics, human rights activists, and journalists. Unsurprisingly, many Syrian activists have taken great exception to Labour's shadow foreign secretary smearing these groups as terrorists. Kremlin propagandists, however, were delighted and have been quick to cite her remarks in their support.

There are some issues on which I strongly disagree with Oz Katerji but I think his article on this subject is very powerful and convincing and I recommend it. You can read that article in full here.

Quote of the day 14th September 2018

Lord Acton was writing about the French revolution when he wrote the words below.

The rallying cry of the revolution had originally been "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (e.g. Freedom,  Equality, Brotherhood) but Lord Acton's view was that it descended into a chaotic bloodbath because the second overwhelmed the first two.

You can read the quote in context in Acton's book "The History of Freedom" (page 57)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Supporting bereaved parents

One of the most shattering thing which can happen to anyone is the death of one of their children. I have no idea how dreadful this experience is and hope I never find out, but I do know how awful it is to lose a parent and losing a child must be even worse.

The government is taking action to provide a new workplace right for bereaved parents who have lost a child two have two weeks’ leave from work, giving them more time to recover from their loss.

This new law, delivering on a manifesto commitment, will:

· Support those affected by the tragedy of childhood mortality, and is expected to come into force in 2020. 
· Give all employed parents a day-one right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. 
· Ensure that employed parents who meet the criteria are able to claim for this period. 

Why this matters:

This law makes Parental Bereavement Leave a legal right for the first time in the UK’s history, as well as delivering on the commitment in the Conservative manifesto.

How not to win friends and influence people

Two of the things which the British most pride ourselves on are a sense of fair play and on caring about children.

On both those grounds, taking out on children that you don't like the a decision or policy position that their mother or father supports is a pretty sick thing to do and not one which is likely to endear you to most British voters.

I was disappointed to learn that a left wing protest group staged a demonstration yesterday outside the home of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and shouted not just at him but also his small children and their nanny.

I wouldn't dream of shouting "Your daddy is a totally horrible person" at a child even if the father concerned was someone I detest. Nor, I think, would most people. But some people have convinced themselves that the fact that they disagree with someone's politics makes not just them but their families legitimate targets for abuse.

Many MPs and commentators of all parties have rightly condemned this demonstration. But I have not seen any such condemnation from the Shadow Chancellor, and perhaps that should not surprise me, because he has contributed to the creation of a climate where such things could happen with speeches like this:

I don't care whether a politician is Tory or Labour, white or black, male or female, pro or anti-Europe, their children are not a legitimate target for abuse.

Let me clarify a point on which many people have difficulty: it is possible to believe passionately in the right to freedom of speech and to disagree with and to disagree with and criticise how some people may use that right.

I supported the successful "Feel free to insult me" campaign to remove from Section 5 of the public order act a ban on "insulting words or behaviour" because it was being used in practice to interfere with legitimate free speech.

Any legal controls on freedom of expression which are capable of being used to block speech merely because somebody strongly disagrees with it or finds it offensive is likely to be abused to stop reasonable expressions of opinion which a strong democracy should allow.

There are other bad laws - such as Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 - which should also be repealed because they are too broad and capable of being used against legitimate free speech.

Ironically, by supporting the report of Section 5, I helped to legalise the behaviour of the people who stand outside Conservative Party conference shouting "Tory Scum" at everyone going in or out including not just party members but journalists, exhibitors and minimum-wage caterers and cleaners. I am entitled to my opinion that the people who do this are being extremely silly: they are entitled to their opinion about Conservatives and to express that opinion.

The unavoidable price of freedom of expression is that opinions which you or I may think are wrong can be expressed as well as those we agree with. Only when that behaviour crosses the line into intimidation, threatening behaviour, incitement to violence or actual violence, or where statements are being made which can be shown in court to be false and slanderous, should the law become involved.

As I was not there, I am not in position to comment on whether the demonstration outside Jacob Rees-Mogg's house crossed the line into intimidation and threatening behaviour and it would be for the courts to decide whether it was against the law of the land.

But treating children like that because you disagree with their parents is certainly against the law of common decency.

It is also a very poor way to win friends and influence people.

Quote of the day 13th September 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Alec Eccles RIP

A good friend of mine and former Bransty constituent who was well known in parts of the West Cumbrian community, Alexander Malcolm Eccles, was taken to hospital today with a suspected heart attack and died this afternoon.

Alex was a larger-than-life character, once met, never forgotten: he was also one of the kindest men I knew.

Condolences to his widow, Heather, and to his family.

Rest in Peace.

A better policy for Britain's countryside

Legislation to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations after nearly half a century under EU rules is being introduced into Parliament today (12 September).

The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.

The Agriculture Bill will set out the new policies for Britain's countryside as we leave the EU so that:
  • Farmers and land managers will in future be rewarded for ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
  • This will replace the current subsidy system which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed, rather than specific public benefits. We will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach.
  • The Bill is also underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in research and development, helping farmers to become more profitable and reduce their environmental footprint.
  • Critically, the Bill will provide a smooth and gradual transition over seven years so that farmers are given time to adjust and plan for the future.
As we leave the European Union, Britain needs to set out a new future for farming. After nearly 50 years of farmers being tied to the Common Agricultural Policy, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit.

The new system will replace the existing subsidy system of Direct Payments, which is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%.

In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. The government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit.

The Bill will also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in Research and Development. For example, there will be funding available for farmers to come together to develop and get the research projects that they want and need, whether that be on soil health or sustainable livestock farming .

This will lead to practical gains for farmers that help them become more profitable and reduce their environmental footprint.

The government will also be able to make payments during the seven year transition period for famers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity.

More details can be found on the government website here.