Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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


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 complicated.

Judeo-Christian traditions commemorating the dead go back thousands of years, pre-dating the life of Jesus and described in the Old Testament (See 2 Maccabees 12:42–46.) Different Christian traditions commemorate the dead in different ways and on different dates although all of them do something to commemorate the departed and most of them have such a commemoration about this time of year.

In terms of pagan rites, there was indeed an ancient Celtic festival marking the Autumn equinox, on 1st November, known as Samhain.

To Catholics, who do not believe that most of those who eventually get to Heaven can go straight there, having to go through a process called "Purgatory" first, Halloween was a vigil before the main feasts of All Saints' Day on 1st November, when the saints in heaven are commemorated, and All Souls' Day, usually on 2nd November (in some countries and traditions it is put back a day to Monday 3rd November when the second day in November is a Sunday) is a day for prayer for all the dead including those who are not yet in heaven and may be in Purgatory on their way there. In some countries the Catholic church also refers to All Souls' Day as the Day of the Dead.

Allhallowtide is the combined festival consisting of all three days.

The Church of England, like many protestant denominations, does not have the same doctrines around Purgatory but does pray for the dead on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day
without making the same theological distinction between the two.

Most human cultures have had some sort of celebration to mark both Solstices and both equinoxes -even if it's only changing the clocks to shift from British Summer Time and Greenwich Mean Time, or the equivalent. (Of course, now we mostly use phones to tell the time and they change automatically). Most cultures have also had some form of commemoration of the dead.

I am not sure I still buy into the "The Catholics set it up this way to sabotage the pagans" narrative but I do think that elements of both have entered into the peculiar modern tradition of Halloween.

I do regret that over the past 20 years we have ditched the traditional British "Penny for the Guy" for an unfortunate imported version of the American "Trick or Treat" practice. In the USA it's only very small children who take part in "Trick or Treat" with their parents or older siblings watching from a safe distance so it doesn't have the appearance,  as it often can in this country when teenagers call on pensioners, of demanding money with menaces. As I hinted earlier today, the presence of sweets in the house can also play merry hell with the diet!

To anyone reading this who is remembering loved ones who have died over the next three days, I will remember both you and your loved ones in my prayers.

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

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" which can clog the arteries and increase your risk of heart disease.

There is a fierce debate going on among the professionals; I've given the majority view above but you can find a summary of the arguments of both sides here.

Worth mentioning that there are a few things both sides appear to agree on.

1) For most people it would be a very good idea to cut down your sugar intake, don't eat a lot of junk food, and take regular exercise

2) Too much of anything is bad for you: keep the overall amount you eat under control (watch your portion sizes!)

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. This will ensure our world-class Armed Forces can face the new threats, and build on the UK’s record of spending more on defence than any NATO member except the US.
·         £160 million counter-terror police funding next year – the biggest one-off funding boost since 2015. This means we can recruit more of the vital counter-terror officers who protect Britain against the evil threats we face.

Labour can’t deliver the strong economy that pays for our public services. They have made 39 unfunded spending commitments since the election – meaning broken promises, or more borrowing and extra taxes.

Investing to improve productivity
·         Increasing the National Productivity Investment Fund to £37 billion and extending it to 2024. This will take public investment to the highest consistently sustained level in 40 years, and to £22 billion more a year in real terms than under Labour.
·         £28.8 billion for England’s largest roads – the biggest-ever single cash investment. We will allocate £28.8 billion to the National Roads Fund from 2020-25. This will be the first time ever that all ‘road tax’ will be spent on roads, increasing Highways England’s budget by 40 per cent.
·         £200 million for full fibre broadband rollout. This will be used to pilot new approaches to fibre rollout in rural areas, starting in primary schools.
·         Abolishing the use of PFI and PF2 for future projects to deliver value for the taxpayer. Labour agreed nearly 90 per cent of all PFI contracts, leaving a bill for the country of more than £200 billion. We will honour existing contracts, but the days of the public sector being a pushover must end, putting another legacy of Labour behind us.
Backing business
·         We will back firms to invest by:
Extending the Annual Investment Allowance to £1 million to help businesses invest to grow.
Introducing a permanent Structures and Buildings Allowance to support investment in buildings.
·         We will support start-ups to grow by:
 Extending the Start Up Loans programme to 2021, backing up to (no space) 10,000 entrepreneurs.
 Extending New Enterprise Allowance to help benefits claimants get their idea off the ground. 
·         We will help businesses with their costs by:
 Delivering the lowest Corporation Tax rate in the G20.
 Freezing HGV Vehicle Excise Duty and short haul Air Passenger Duty.
 Keeping three million small businesses out of VAT altogether by maintain one of the highest VAT thresholds in the world.
 Making it cheaper to take on apprentices by halving the co-investment rate for non-levy payers.
·         And we will invest in the technologies of the future with:
 £121 million to support cutting edge digital manufacturing.
 £78 million to fund electric motor innovations.
 £315 million in quantum technologies.
 £50 million for new Turing Fellowships to attract and retain the world’s experts in AI.

Supporting local communities

Councils and high streets
·         £650 million more for social care next year. Councils will receive additional grant funding of £650 million for social care, building on the £240 million for winter pressures this year announced at Conservative Party Conference.
·         £84 million for children’s social care. We will expand successful children’s social care programmes from Leeds, North Yorkshire and Hertfordshire to up to 20 other councils with high or rising need. 
·         £420 million for potholes. We will make £420 million available immediately via an uplift in the Highways Maintenance block grant to help tackle potholes, bridge repairs and other minor works. £150 million will also be made available to improve local traffic hotspots such as roundabouts.
·         £900 million to cut business rates by one third for two years. This is for retailers with rateable value of under £51,000, saving up to 90 per cent of all shops up to £8,000 each year, and building on previous reductions worth more than £12.5 billion. We will introduce 100 per cent relief for public toilets, benefiting many town and parish councils.
·         £675 million for a Future High Streets Fund and a new High Streets Taskforce. This will support councils to implement plans for the transformation of their high streets. We will also relax town planning rules to support new mixed-use businesses on the high street and the conversion of under-used retail units into offices and homes.

·         Abolishing stamp duty retrospectively for first-time buyers of all shared ownership properties up to £300,000, helping more people to get a foot on the housing ladder.
·         Putting an additional £500 million into the Housing Infrastructure Fund, unlocking thousands of new homes so more people have a decent place to call home.
·         Committing over £7.2 billion to a new Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme to support 110,000 new homebuyers in England. The scheme will run for two years, targeted at first-time buyers with new regional property price caps.
·         Formally abolishing the Housing Revenue Account cap. We will abolish the cap that controls local authority borrowing for house building from 29 October in England. This will enable councils to increase building to around 10,000 homes per year.

·         Introducing a new tax on plastic packaging which does not contain 30 per cent recycled plastic. We will consult on the design of this new tax, which will encourage the manufacture of sustainable packaging.
·         £60 million to plant millions more trees. £10 million match-funding will be provided for new street and urban trees, and up to £50 million to purchase carbon credits from landowners who plant qualifying woodland. The latter would provide for an estimated 10 million new trees over the next 30 years.
·         We will also continue to protect our environment by:
           Investing up to £315 million in an Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.
           Investing £13 million to extend the flood warning service.
           Providing £10 million to clear up abandoned waste sites.
           Providing £20 million to develop easier-to-recycle materials

Quote of the day 30th October 2018

Monday, October 29, 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 up from 1.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent.
· Employment has been revised up – with 800,000 more jobs in 2023 than previously forecast.
· Wages are set to rise above inflation in each of the next five years.

Key points on public finances:
· We have met our borrowing target three years early – the deficit is now down to 1.9 per cent of GDP from almost 10 per cent under Labour (The target was 2.0 per cent).
· We have also met our debt target three years early – the national debt fell as a share of GDP this year, to 85 per cent, and will fall in each of the next five years (the target was that debt should fall as a share of GDP).

Key Budget measures

· Overall investment in public services will increase in real terms over the next five years. Public spending will increase overall by 1.2 per cent in real terms each year, with precise plans to be set out at the Spending Review.
· 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.
· Fulfilling our promises on income tax one year early, so people keep more of what they earn. We will raise the Personal Allowance to £12,500 and Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000 one year early, saving a typical basic rate taxpayer £130 compared to 2018-19 and £1,205 compared to 2010-11. Nearly 1 million fewer people will pay the higher rate of income tax.
· Supporting our councils with an additional £1 billion of funding. We will support councils with £650 million for social care, £84 million for children’s social care programmes over five years and £420 million for potholes this year.
· Backing high streets by cutting business rates by a third for two years. Rates will be cut by a third for retailers with rateable value under £51,000, saving up to 90 per cent of all shops up to £8,000 each year.
· Investing an additional £1.7 billion per year to benefit working families on Universal Credit. We will increase the work allowance – the amount families can earn before losing benefits – by £1,000, worth £630 per year to those households.
· Providing £500 million more to ensure Britain is prepared for Brexit: the Chancellor had already set aside £1.5 billion next year to prepare for all eventualities – today the government increased that by £500 million to £2 billion.
· A 2 per cent Digital Services Tax will ensure large digital firms pay a fair share of tax to support our public services. From 2020, large social media platforms, search engines and online marketplaces will pay 2 per cent on revenues linked to UK users.

Helping families with the cost of living
· Increasing the National Living Wage by nearly 5 per cent, from £7.83 to £8.21. This will deliver a £690 annual pay rise to a full-time worker, taking the total annual pay rise since its introduction to £2,750.
· Fulfilling our promise to cut income tax one year early, so people keep more of what they earn. We will raise the Personal Allowance to £12,500 and Higher Rate Threshold to £50,000 one year early, saving a typical basic rate taxpayer £130 compared to 2018-19 and £1,205 compared to 2010-11. Nearly 1 million fewer people will pay the higher rate of income tax.
· Tackling problem debt and payday lenders with a No-interest Loan Scheme. We will conduct a study looking at how an Australian-style no-interest public loan scheme could work in the UK. We will also increase the ‘breathing space’ period to protect those with problem debt from creditor action from six weeks to 60 days.
· Investing an additional £1.7 billion per year to benefit working families on Universal Credit. We will increase the work allowance – the money families can earn before losing benefits – by £1,000, worth £630 per year to those households.
· Freezing fuel duty for the ninth year, saving the average car driver a cumulative £1,000 by April 2010. · Freezing beer, cider and spirits duty for another year, supporting patrons of the Great British pub and saving people 2p on a pint of beer and 30p on a bottle of Scotch or gin.
· Keeping Air Passenger Duty for short haul flights at current levels. Short-haul rates will not rise for the eighth year in a row, benefiting 80 per cent of passengers and keeping the cost of the family holiday down.
· Rolling out the 26-30 railcard on a permanent basis, giving young people a third off their fares.

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 many people say they were never told about.

You can read Alistair Meek's article, which includes a link to the FT piece, here.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

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

Saturday, October 27, 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 the figures have been for the past fortnight.

Looking at which individual posts have had the most traffic one might almost be tempted to conclude that the anonymous poster who had a pop at me over Whitehaven School a fortnight ago on an education and training thread may have done me a favour by boosting the traffic figures. I think at least some of the regular readers must have been having a repeated look at the thread on which we had a little spat to see if there were any more comments there.

And then, the more traffic a site gets the more the search engines and other algorithms will send to it.

Whatever else you say about the Labour party, their social media campaigns are generally pretty effective. This is an issue on which Conservatives need to learn from them. Fast.

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)

Friday, October 26, 2018

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 every Nazi propagandist would stick to that line.

When the Soviet Union shot down a Korean civilian airliner in 1983 at the height of the cold war, the soviets put out a fairly consistent message that the airliner had actually been spying and that the incident was a deliberate provocation by the United States.

There are some similarities between the 1983 and 2014 airline tragedies, but when a BUK missile from Russia's 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade shot down an Malaysian airliner in 2014, the Russian regime put out multiple different and indeed incompatible explanations, some of them absurd. Some of these stories do not appear as though the authors were trying so much to convince anyone so much as make people throw up their hands in disgust and stop believing anything.

Nicholas Grossman has written an excellent article,

"A Voter’s Guide to Russian Shenanigans"

which argues that despite a lagging military and weak economy, Russia remains a modern superpower because they have developed a new form of information warfare against which nobody in the West has yet come up with an effective counter.

As he argues,

"The goal is simple: If Russia can’t scale to the heights of its enemies, the country will bring its enemies down to its level. With propaganda, cyberattacks, and support for divisive political causes, Russia aims to weaken rivals in the West, undermine public confidence in democracy, and incapacitate NATO and the European Union."

"Russia’s information warriors try to heighten divisions, sometimes with exaggerations and lies, but often simply by amplifying divisive voices within their target countries."

"One of Russia’s disinformation campaigns targets the White Helmets, a volunteer organization in Syria that conducts search-and-rescue efforts after bombardments. The White Helmets’ work reveals how much Russian-backed Syrian military operations are killing civilians, and Russia has tried to discredit them as al-Qaeda terrorists.

"Russian accounts helped spread a claim on Twitter by a Swiss doctor who inaccurately claimed a picture of White Helmet workers treating children was fake. It received more than 12,500 retweets and was translated into multiple languages — those posts also got thousands of retweets — and kept spreading even after the doctor admitted he made a mistake.

"With this disinformation, Assad’s supporters get “evidence” to counter and distract from accusations that he’s responsible for the mass murder of civilians. Additionally, it floods the information space, creating enough uncertainty that third parties think, “I don’t know who to believe,” and therefore don’t demand action to stop it."

"Russia’s post-election efforts in the United States have aimed more at pushing on culture war wedges. For example, Russian-linked accounts supported both sides of the NFL kneeling debate, with some supporting the players and sharing Black Lives Matter slogans while others joined the president in denouncing the kneelers as unpatriotic and anti-police. This shows how Russia’s main goal is sowing chaos in its primary adversary, not supporting any particular cause."

An example of Russia sending out social media messages on both sides of an issue which I am personally aware of is that while deluging some people in both Britain and America with attacks on vaccination, often vitriolic ones, Russian trolls and bots have also supported aggressive and divisive pro-vaccination messages.

The article is aimed particularly at US voters in the mid-term elections but is also relevant to those of us in any other Western country. You can read it in full here and I strongly recommend it.

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 previous insurance system, which covered fewer than half of the working population.

As Churchill himself put it in March 1944, speaking as Prime Minister:

The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all: that is clear. Disease must be attacked whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman, simply on the ground that it is the enemy: and it must be attacked in the same way that the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humble cottage as readily as it will give it to the most important mansion… 

“Our policy is to create a national health service, in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Willink as Health minister was given the job of drawing up plans for the new national health service and in 1944 launched a White Paper on the subject, which he spoke about in a July 1944 broadcast which you can view below:.

This was taken forward by the Labour government after the 1945 election and implemented: nobody should seek to deny their role in this but as even Bevan's biographer John Campbell wrote,

"There can be no doubt that some form of National Health Service would have come into being after 1945 whoever had won the General Election.”

Liberal William Beveridge identified the need for Universal Healthcare in 1942, Conservative Henry Willink started the process of developing the policies to make this a reality, and Labour's Nye Bevan completed this process and implemented it. The foundation of the NHS is actually a story of partnership.

You can read more about the role of Henry Willink in the creation of the NHS on Conservative Home here and on the Pathe website here.

Another day, another Labour resignation

The BBC reports that yet another long-serving Labour councillor has left the party.

Veteran 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 accused of racism, or so keen to score political points by making the kind of attack which was made against Sajid Javid, that they behave in the way Brendan O'Neill describes, we are in danger of creating an opportunity for the likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (who calls himself Tommy Robinson) to claim that they are the only people standing up for the victims of grooming gangs.

That claim would not be true.

However, unless it is not just true but self-evidently obvious that the authorities will come down very hard indeed on all paedophiles and grooming gangs, whatever the race of the culprits, many people are likely to believe it and the consequences for social cohesion and race relations will be damaging.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

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 theme by a group of music students, about musician and academic called Ebenezer Prout who is best known for arranging and cataloging the works of Bach:

"O Ebenezer Prout, you are a clever man,

For you make Bach fugues as easy as you can,

For you make Bach fugues as easy as you ca - a - a - a - an!"

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 which include the trillion pounds figure pretty much as the PM quoted it.)

I previously wrote a post on this blog based on the same reports which you can read here.

The headline suggest that Mr Cowley accuses the PM of "distorting my book" and the article suggests that her comment "isn't quite what the book says."

The sub-heading, which I suspect is the work of a New Statesman subeditor, says that the real story reflects "very poorly on her and on her campaign."

No criticism of Labour in that headline. Which is itself misleading

Because if anyone is trying to give the impression that the real story in the book makes the Conservative statements seriously at fault and that Labour's manifesto really was properly costed, that would be a far worse distortion than anything which Philip Cowley's article shows the PM to have committed.

Indeed, such an implication would not just be a distortion, it would be downright wrong.

So let's look at what Philip Cowley and his book actually do say. There are lessons in it for both parties.

The book quoted an internal Labour email during the election which casts rather serious doubt on the claim repeated with great regularity by Labour representatives that they had a "fully costed" manifesto at the 2017 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."

Philip Cowley is still saying quite clearly in his New Statesman piece that these came, quote,

"even conservatively, to billions of unaccounted spending."

One of the Labour figures involved in the preparation of the manifesto is quoted in the New Statesman article as saying of their own manifesto 

"It didn't add up! It didn't add up."

Let's precis what Philip Cowley is saying in words of one syllable. These are not his exact words but they are a reasonable summary of what he wrote both in the book and in the New Statesman about Labour's 2017 election manifesto.


His main criticism of the suggestion by the Mail and Sun, quoted by the PM, that this black hole amounted to £1,000,000,000 is not that they've invented this figure or that it has no connection to reality, and certainly not that there wasn't a large amount of unaccounted spending in the manifesto.

His only substantive criticism of the statement by the Mail and Sun which was repeated by the PM is that they failed to make clear that this figure of one trillion pounds was the extreme upper limit of the range of values within which the black hole in Labour's budget could plausibly have been presented as being.

One of the Labour leader’s aides told the authors:

I just kept thinking, they’ll tear us apart on this. But the attack never came."

Well, it damn well should have, and that is the - entirely valid - criticism which Philip Cowley makes of the Conservative campaign.

But which party is guilty of the worse offense? According to Mr Cowley,

1) Labour published what they said was a "fully costed" manifesto which actually had missing or implausible figures in it to the tune of many billions of pounds.

2) The Conservatives should have been able to tear it apart, and failed to do so.

In my humble opinion those offences against the voter are not of equal significance and the Conservatives are not the party guilty of the more serious offence.

Lessons, I think, for both parties for next time.

While I hope and expect that the next Conservative campaign will concentrate on putting forward positive policies of our own, if Labour present a supposedly "fully costed manifesto" with as many holes as their 2017 manifesto had in it - and judging by the 32 unfunded spending promises they've already made in this parliament, that looks entirely likely - they should not be allowed to get away with it again.

Quote of the day 25th October 2018

Wednesday, October 24, 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 in it, all have to be careful about the amount of methane and carbon dioxide which goes up there, because it is that which marks out our planet from others, which means that we can sustain life here.
And because we now have something like six billion people, whereas two hundred years ago we only had one billion, and because we have in fact managed to keep all the extra agriculture to keep those going and [end p17] managed all the extra technology, we really are putting more waste things up there than ever before in the history of the world and we don't know its effect.
So, we on that aspect were one of the first to realise that was happening. We held a big conference in London on the Ozone Layer. I also did a speech on the scientific aspects to the Royal Society and also a major one to the United Nations last November. And I hope that that will take the global aspect forward. It must be done through United Nations and we are doing very well ourselves on the ozone layer and are now beginning to tackle the other things and we shall continue on a sound scientific basis to take the lead in that aspect.
Now, the second aspect of the environment is the regional one. It is concerned with the amount of waste you put into the North Sea, into the rivers, into the amount of acid rain which knows no borders. It is the regional one and we have to tackle that really through Europe and the wider Europe. Not only the European Community, because Europe was there long before we had a European Community. It is the wider Europe. Now, we have a major programme there for cutting down the emission of sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide from coal-fired power stations and we shall be fulfilling that.
We also had a North Sea Conference in Britain and we have come to certain arrangements that we shall not put certain chemicals in, nor have the burning of waste at sea unless there is no better way of disposing of it. That has to be done through the European Community and that is going well.
Then there is the third aspect: our immediate local environment. And it is no good concentrating very much on the global environment and the North Sea and the rivers, unless we are also prepared to keep our towns and cities clean of litter and graffiti and I hope that those people who talk about the environment so much will be the first to see that they do not in fact throw down litter, that the motorways are clean, that the towns and the countryside is kept in a clean state, because it really is appalling if people go to scenes of great beauty which are lovely when they get there and they leave them littered with all kinds of rubbish. So that too is important.
May I just, as I have been thinking on my feet, say there is a fourth point about the environment? Environment is not only about the physical environment. It is about the standards and values, the courtesy, the conduct by which we live. That matters very much indeed and courtesy is by definition: thinking of others. It is taking pride in the school of which you are part, pride in the reputation of your company, pride in your area and setting the standards. We are active in all four parts of those aspects of the environment."

Government conferences come and go but almost everything else she said is still very relevant and important today.

Quote of the day 24th October 2018

Tuesday, October 23, 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."


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 many accusations that one particular named MP was supposedly responsible for a particularly horrible comment that Tim Shipman, the chief political correspondent of the Sunday Times, felt obliged to formally deny that the MP concerned had been the source of any of the quotes in his newspaper last weekend.

Michael Deacon reports that when the PM came to report to parliament about the negotiations,

"Brexiteers evidently decided they had little choice but to preface their questions with a condemnation of their anonymous colleagues. Perhaps they did it purely out of principle. Perhaps they did it to discourage anyone from thinking that they’re all as odious as that. Or perhaps they did it to make clear that they themselves weren’t the ones who’d given the quotes. 

Whatever their motive, they denounced their unnamed allies in the strongest terms. 

The persons who directed violent language at my Right Honourable Friend have thoroughly disgraced themselves,snapped Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe). I very much hope they’re discovered, and that she’ll withdraw the whip from them.”

May I join those who have condemned the violent language that has been used,sighed Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, N E Somerset). “I hold up my Right Honourable Friend as a role model. She is always courteous.

I believe most on these benches utterly condemn and regard with disdain the tone of some of the language used,” scowled Sir Roger Gale (Con, N Thanet). 

Numerous other members said much the same. And it changed the atmosphere inside the chamber. Instead of anger at Mrs May, there was sympathy."

Well, what a surprise.

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.)

Monday, October 22, 2018

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, they have not added to the reputation of their profession.

When one is cross with someone who has done or said something you strongly disagree with or think has made an egregious mistake, there is often a temptation to be very rude about them. This seems to particularly apply to political or religious disagreements (including where the person disagreeing is an atheist.)

I understand that temptation  I've felt it often enough. Nor am I suggesting that giving in to that temptation, provided you fall short of incitement to violence or other criminal activity, should be illegal, although you're expecting a bit much if you expect the people you attack to provide you with a platform for those insults.

(I wouldn't expect Labour or Corbyn supporters to let me post a vicious personal attack on themselves or their leader on their websites and anyone who thinks I'm going to allow such attacks against anyone on this blog, least of all myself or anyone I like or support, is not playing with a full deck.)

But however strongly you may disagree with someone, giving in to the temptation to abuse them rarely if ever helps your case. I've never had the same respect for George Osborne as I had before his egregious remarks about the present PM and his fridge. Some of the remarks quoted in the papers this weekend are in the same category.