Showing posts from October, 2018

Halloween music spot: "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns



Today is All Hallow's Eve (the day before All Saints Day) usually shortened to Halloween. It is often alleged, and I was told as a child, that at this time of year the pre-Christian religions originally held a great Pagan festival which was co-opted by the early Christian church. In medieval times there was an important three-day festival called "Allhallowtide" in the Christian calendar. It would be easy to conclude that the only thing from either the pagan festivals which were once held at this time of year, or Christian festivals either, which retains any significant impact on the popular consciousness are the name "Halloween" for the first day of that festival and a humorous "celebration" of ghosts, witches and demons which are essentially a parody of the way medieval Christian propagandists depicted the previous pagan festival. However, when you start looking into the historical evidence it rapidly becomes clear that things are a bit more c

The problem with trick or treat ...

Next year we're going to have to get some form of heathy treats to keep by the door for "trick or treat" visitors in the run-up to Halloween. This year, being short of time, my wife raided my stock of emergency raffle prizes, opened a box of sweets and put the contents in a dish by the front door. The problem is that the effort required not to take one when walking past the door is considerable, and if you are trying to lose a few stone this is a temptation one really does not need ...

Jim Wise RIP

Jim Wise, one of the oldest and best known residents of Cleator Moor, died on Sunday in hospital at the age of 95. Jim was a former WWII veteran who served in Berlin at the end of the war. He was a lovely man, unfailingly polite and cheerful, with a ready smile for everyone he met. Three years ago when Cleator Moor Town council looked for a local person with a track record of involvement in the community to switch on the town's Christmas lights they picked Jim. I will miss his cheerful smiles and greetings and I know that many other people will, too. Rest In Peace.

Quote of the day 31st October 2018


Watch out if you're driving in Cumbria this morning

There have been a number of road traffic accidents in Cumbria over the last couple of nights and early mornings, several involving vehicles skidding on ice and including a fatality in the early hours or yesterday morning. Do take care if you are out and about this morning.

Are the "cholesterol deniers" talking "butter nonsense?"

A vocal minority of scientists are challenging the current medical orthodoxy on the subject of saturated fats and cholesterol. The majority view among doctors, scientists and dieticians is that, although eating butter and cheese in moderation is OK as part of a balanced diet, to quote Professor Louis Levy who is head of nutrition science at Public Health England,  "There is good evidence that a high intake of saturated fats increases your risk of heart disease. We need to think about where the sources of saturated fats are and how we can reduce them. The largest contributions are dairy products, including butter, and meat and meat products." Public Health England, the World Health Organisation, the British Heart Foundation and the great majority of medical experts and organisations all say that moderate amount of the above products can form part of a healthy, balanced diet, too much of the above can cause the liver to produce excess amounts of LDL "bad cholesterol&

Autumn budget 2018 - part 2

More measures in the Chancellor's budget statement yesterday Supporting our public services ·          Funding the Prime Minister’s NHS commitment.   We have fully-funded the cash settlement that was set out in June – which equates to £20.5 billion more in real terms by 2023-24, and an average real growth rate in the NHS’s budget of 3.4 per cent a year.   ·          £2 billion more per year for mental health. The long-term plan for the NHS will commit further funding to help achieve parity of esteem between mental and physical health services. It means anyone experiencing a crisis can call NHS 111 24/7, more mental health ambulances, increased community support and comprehensive support at every major A&E by 2024.    ·          £400 million more for schools this year. We are allocating £10,000 to the average primary and £50,000 to the average secondary to help schools buy the equipment they need.   ·          £1 billion for defence across this year and next

Quote of the day 30th October 2018


Autumn budget 2018 - part one

Today the Chancellor reported that the hard work of the British people is paying off: our careful fiscal management and solid economic recovery means that austerity is coming to an end. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reports a significant upgrade to Britain's public finances, underscoring the strength of the economic recovery. Austerity is coming to an end – but discipline remains. That is the clear dividing line in British politics today: a Conservative Government taking a balanced approach and getting debt down. Or Jeremy Corbyn whose version of ending austerity would be to raise taxes to the highest level in peacetime history and send debt soaring – taking us back to square one. Economy and public finances The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published its updated outlook for the economy and public finances. Key points on the economy : · Economic growth has been revised up – the growth forecast for next year has been revised u

Quote of the day 29th October 2018


The disintegration of the persistence of memory - the Pensions story

"The persistence of memory" and "The disintegration of the persistence of memory" are of course two Salvador Dali paintings, but the latter is of course also a common occurrence when selective or poor memory appears to be in people's interests. Alistair Meeks, who is a regular writer and commentator on the "Political Betting" site, and also a former Chair of the Association of Pension Lawyers, wrote an excellent article at the weekend about the current political consequences of the decisions taken in the 1990's as a result of a European Court ruling that differences in the ages at which men and women become eligible for state pensions must be phased out. He cites a report by Josephine Colombo of the FT who found that between 1993 and 2006 there were more than 600 mentions in the national press, some of them on front pages, in all types of media including the tabloids, of the changes which are still gradually being phased in but man

Sunday music spot: Autumn (3rd movement) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons

The beautiful scenery shown in the video clip accompanying Vivaldi's music is a display of views of Sheffield Park Garden - which is in Sussex.

Tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue

Yesterday morning a gunman called Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attacked the congregation at a baby-naming ceremony, apparently after shouting Anti-Semitic slogans. He shot dead eleven people and wounded another six, including four of the responding police officers, before surrendering. It is difficult to imagine a more sick or depraved action. The thoughts and prayers of all decent people will be with the victims of this senseless act of barbarism, and their families, today. If anyone needed evidence that the evil of Anti-Semitism has yet to be banished to the dustbin of history where it belongs, or that this vile and disgusting prejudice still has the power to provoke the most terrible acts of pure wickedness, this incident provides it. This should make us redouble our efforts to fight against Anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism.

Quote of the day 28th October 2018


Clocks go back tonight!

If you are in the UK, remember that we put the clocks back an hour tonight on changing from BST (British Summer Time) to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). Technically we go through the hour from 1pm to 2pm in the early hours of Sunday 28th October 2018 twice.

A social media challenge for the Conservatives

There is a very good piece on Conservative Home by Tyler Thomas, who is a student at Durham University. The article addresses the challenge which the Conservatives face in improving our game on social media, particularly if we want to appeal to young voters, and you can read it here . I think he makes a particularly important point about the need for us to be clever in thinking about ensuring our social media strategy takes account of the filtering algorithms of the internet. I don't pretend to know what drives them, but I only have to look at the viewing figures for this blog to know the8r impacts can be counterintuitive. For the past five years the number of daily pageviews on this blog has varied between about 250 - though it's usually not that low - and about 2,000 (it's not often that high.) It goes through dry periods of weeks at a time when the daily hit rate is about 500 and then occasionally will run for some time at more like 1,500 hits a day - which is where

Saturday music spot: "Dance of the Furies" from Gluck's Orpheus & Eurydice


Quote of the day 27th October 2018

"Thought for the day: Those you disagree with aren’t enemies or traitors. They don’t deserve to be “knifed or lynched or hanged”. They are just people you disagree with.  Those who report news you don’t like aren’t fake or frauds or enemies of the people. They are just reporters." ( Nick Robinson @bbcnickrobinson on Twitter)

How Russian propaganda seeks to divide and rule

The totalitarian propagandists of the 20th century, from Goebbels to the editors of Pravda, sought to convince as many people of the truth of one narrative which presented their own side as perfectly righteous and their opponents as evil. All the most successful political campaigners and spin doctors in Western democracies right down to the present day follow a similar if hopefully more honest and nuanced approach in which there is still one narrative which supports their case and they try to get as many people as possible to support it. The present Russian government, however, does not work like that. The Putin regime seeks not to convince but to divide, not to persuade people of one truth but to discredit truth itself. When the Nazi regime wanted to disavow responsibility for something Goebbels would settle on one variation or another of "The Jews did it," "The Freemasons did it," "The Communists did it," or "It didn't happen!" and

Henry Willink and the creation of the NHS

In this 70th year since the foundation of the NHS it is time to give an appropriate share of the credit to one of the founders of the NHS who hardly anyone today has heard of. Anyone with an interest in politics or history knows of the huge role which Nye Bevan played in the creation of the NHS and no reasonable person would dispute that as the minister who actually carried the legislation through parliament he deserves a great share of the credit for the creation of the NHS. However, there were other people who also did a great deal of the spadework and one person who deserves more credit than he usually receives is Henry Willink (later Sir Henry,) Conservative MP for Croydon North who was minister of health in Churchill's wartime coalition from 1943 to 1945. Conservative, Labour and Liberal members of Churchill's wartime government agreed on the need, identified in the Beveridge Report in 1942, to provide health care for everyone free at the point of use, to replace the

Another day, another Labour resignation

The BBC reports that yet another long-serving Labour councillor has left the party. V eteran Merseyside councillor  Moira McLoughlin has resigned from the Labour group amid claims of " bullying and intimidation " by " the hard left ". Moira McLoughlin, a councillor in Wirral for 23 years, said she would continue to sit as an independent. Her resignation comes after council leader Phil Davies announced he was stepping down and Birkenhead MP Frank Field also resigned the Labour whip . Ms McLoughlin said: " I have lost confidence that the Labour Party has got either the ability or the will to deal with the hard left takeover that is now almost complete in Wirral ."

Quote of the day 26th October 2018

"There has been more controversy over the home secretary’s response to the Huddersfield crimes than there was over the crimes themselves. Following the verdict, Sajid Javid tweeted , ‘ These sick Asian paedophiles are finally facing justice ’. Cue media meltdown. How dare he mention the men’s ethnic background?  As the Guardian reported, Javid has been ‘lambasted’ and ‘rebuked’ by ‘MPs and human-rights campaigners’. There was more fury in the denunciations of Javid for referring to the men’s heritage than there was in any of the commentary on the men themselves.  What a pass we have come to when a politician’s anger about paedophilic behaviour disturbs the chattering classes more than the paedophilic behaviour itself." ( Brendan O'Neill in an article in Spiked called " Who will speak for the Huddersfield girls? ") What really worries me is that because so many mainstream commentators and people involved in politics are so terrified of being accus

Thursday music spot: Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542

A truly magnificent performance by Gregory Lloyd of one of the best of J.S. Bach's organ works, one of several of his compositions which are sometimes described as "The Great." I do have a confession with respect to this piece however. Someone once described an intellectual as a person who can listen to the Overture to Rossini's "William Tell" opera without thinking of "The Lone Ranger." I used to be able to do that, though after I read the comment I have usually been unable to listen to it without remembering the quote itself. What I've never been able to do is listen to the third movement of Mozart's 4th Horn Concerto without remembering the song "Ill Wind"  which Flanders and Swann set to that music. And whenever I hear the Fugue theme of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (it is heard for the first time 7 minutes and 27 seconds into the above performance) I remember some lyrics which were once set to that the

Learning the lessons of the 2017 election

When you see a striking headline it is often worth reading the detail of the story underneath - which frequently fails to confirm what you might otherwise have inferred from the headline. Very often when I see a headline that I think is wrong or seriously misleading, and then read the piece underneath it, I find that the article or news report itself is accurate - but the editors in search of a striking headline have written one which is usually related to the issue discussed in the items but gives a strikingly wrong impression or at least overstates the case. And so it is with the New Statesman's headline on a piece by Philip Cowley in response to the Prime Minister's statement that there was a trillion pounds of uncosted expenditure in the 2017 Labour manifesto. This was probably taken from the book "The British General Election of 2017" which Philip Cowley had written with Denis Kavanagh, or from press reports about the book in the Sun and the Mail (articles

Quote of the day 25th October 2018


George Higgins RIP

George Higgins who was for many years, with his late wife Leah, a mainstay of the Conservatives in Bransty and Whitehaven died yesterday at the age of 90. As Mike Graham said, George was "One of life's real characters" and I remember him with great fondness. He was a lovely man, always kind and friendly, who gave me much wise counsel when I first arrived in West Cumbria and was always ready to help people. He will be missed. Rest in Peace.

Down memory lane

Quite by chance during an internet search this lunchtime I found a transcript of a speech made by Mrs Thatcher in 1990 towards the end of her time as Prime Minister which included her answer to a question which I asked her as a very young man. It was about the environment and her response is still topical many years later. I had asked " What role do you see for Britain in helping the world to tackle its environmental problems ?" She replied "Well, that's a pretty broad question. A very important role for Britain. I think we have been foremost in leading things on the global environment. I think you have to divide the environment really into three aspects. First, the global environment which enables us to have life on our world and fundamentally to protect that and not dump all the waste gases in it. That is absolutely vital. It requires, of course, the co-operation of every country. So we all have to be careful we don't put the fluorohydrocarbons i

Quote of the day 24th October 2018


Is the penny strarting to drop?

The latest YouGov two-party tracker for "Best Prime Minister" has Theresa May in the lead  and Jeremy Corbyn in third place behind "Don't know." his  Interestingly, in the part of the electorate where Jeremy Corbyn used to have a massive lead. e.g. among voters aged 18-24, there is a very clear trend - he's lost more than a third of his support with this age group since last year's election. Perhaps young voters are starting to see through Mr Corbyn ...

When insults backfire ...

I wrote yesterday evening that although the people at the Conservative meeting I attended yesterday represented the whole range of views about Brexit one thing that united them was disapproval of the language of some of the attacks on the PM from various un-named Conservatives at the weekend. I also wrote that giving in to the temptation to be very rude about someone "rarely if ever helps your case." Judging by both my twitter feed and press comments such as the Telegraph parliamentary sketch column by Michael Deacon here which was the source of my "second quote of the day" in the previous post, the vast majority of Conservative MPs had much the same reaction as the people at the meeting I attended, to such an extent that the insults have badly backfired. There was a great deal of comment on twitter about who might have been responsible for the most egregious comments with a view to getting their constituency parties to do something about it - including so man

Second quote of the day 23rd October

" Sometimes I think Mrs May could be ousted tomorrow. Other times I think my great-great-grandchildren will awake to the news that Mrs May has just negotiated a 95th extra year for the transition period " ( Michael Deacon quoted by Nick Robinson on twitter)

Quote of the day 23rd October 2018

(Hat tip to John Rentoul for quoting the above passage on Twitter and drawing my attention to the excellent article by Tom Freeman from which it comes. The article is called " Brexit: thinking out loud about terrible ideas ," and you can read it in full here .)

FT: Britain must strive for a cooler political climate

Further to my previous post this evening there is an excellent article in the FT today called, " Britain must strive for a cooler political climate ," which makes some similar points and which you can read here . I would suggest that one point which could be emphasised a little more clearly in the article: the problem of febrile and overheated language is not confined to any one part of the political spectrum or any one view about Brexit. There has been too much extreme language from left as well as right and from hardline Remainers as well as hardline Brexiteers. It does not serve our country well to treat people with different views about the best interests of all our people as enemies.

On political insults

A couple of days ago I put up Mrs Thatcher's response to personal attacks - that people only resort to them if they have no good political arguments as my quote of the day. I did that partly because an anonymous troll had been posting some childish insults about me on this blog. This was the quote: It turned out, however, to be far more relevant to comments reported at the weekend which are supposed to have been made by anonymous MPs about the Prime Minister. I spent today at a Conservative meeting at which a wide variety of views were expressed about Brexit but one thing which united all the people present regardless of their views about Remain or Leave was that some of the language which had allegedly been used about the PM was not an appropriate way to talk about any other human being, let alone the leader of one's own party who is also our country's Prime Minister. If the comments concerned really were made by an MP rather than an over-imaginative journalist,