Monday, December 31, 2018

A wish for 2019

Whatever else happens in the year which is about to begin, and which is certain to see millions of people very disappointed by whatever decisions are taken about Brexit, I entirely agree with Iain Dale's hope in his article in the Mail online here, that in 2019 people will pay attention to her majesty's wise words in her Christmas address and try to treat one another which as much civility and respect as we can manage.

The vote in the 2016 referendum would never have been as close as it was unless there were strong arguments on both sides. In fairness there are also wrong-headed and silly arguments on both sides. But all of us should recognise that none of us have a monopoly of wisdom or virtue and however hard it is - and some people go out of their way to make it very hard indeed - we should try to respect the views of those who have different opinions, about Brexit or anything else, and even more, treat them with decency and courtesy.

A music spot for New Year's eve: Ring Out Wild Bells

Children's medical records to be made available to their parents online

The "red book", containing a child's medical records, is to be made available to parents online as part of government plans to improve NHS care for mothers and new babies.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also promised more specialist neonatal staff and intensive care cots for newborn babies.
The measures are designed to make maternity care safer while cutting stillbirths and infant deaths.
England still lags behind many European countries on baby deaths.
In 2017, 1,857 babies died during their first month of life, out of a total of more than 640,000 delivered in England.
Figures show that the number of stillbirths have declined steadily since 2010, but ministers say there is still more to do.

Matt Hancock said: "Great care also means safe care, but sadly too many women are still suffering the unimaginable tragedy of losing a child.
"We are committed to saving 4,000 lives by 2025 by halving stillbirths, maternal and infant deaths and serious brain injuries in new-borns."

Quote of the day New Year's Eve 2018

"Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding."

H.M. Queen Elizabeth, Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth, 25th December 2018.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Dame June Whitfield RIP

We have lost some remarkable human being who died in 2018, including some of the greats of British comedy. I was sad to learn that on Friday one of them was Dame June Whitfield.

It seems like there was hardly a significant comedy production made in Britain between the 1950s and the early 21st century in which June Whitfield did not feature at some stage. She brought laughter to millions.

Rest in Peace.

A sunday carol: Steeleye Span sing 'Gaudete, Christus est Natus'

Quote of the day 30th December 2018

"Brexit is born of a misreading of the nature of the EU, but the Remain side’s misreading of Brexit voters is almost as bad and sometimes worse. 

It’s still far, far too common to hear in Remainer circles tropes about Leavers being misled and bamboozled into their vote, or perhaps bewitched by internet-wizards and Russian enchanters. 

And click on #FBPE and you’ll quickly find someone impugning the motives of Leave voters. It pains me that even some of the people I admire most on this side of the debate have signed up to the claim that voting Leave was often an act of racism. There is no convincing evidence to support that hunch. 

Another Remain narrative is truly awful: ‘relax, we just need to wait because Leavers are all OAPs who are slowly dying off.’ This, I think, is about as nasty and divisive as any of the anti-immigration scare stories of the Leave campaign. It’s also based on a misreading of the evidence (Leave won among all voters over 45, and possibly the 35-45 bracket too). 

And more importantly, it exposes the continued failure of Remain campaigners to treat the people who disagree with them with respect, to respect and attempt to understand their motives and answer their concerns. 

If your best hope of winning in politics is to pray for the death of those who aren’t persuaded by your arguments, neither you nor your arguments are any good. 

Which is why, I suspect, the significant shift in public opinion some Remainers consider inevitable still hasn’t arrived."

Extract from an excellent Spectator article by James Kirkup, who voted Remain, about the failure of too many people on all sides of the Brexit debate to face up to reality.

The article is called "2018: the year that exposed the Brexit fantasies on all sides,"

and you can read it in full here.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A year of Forecasting dangerously

If you want an indication of just how uncertain and unpredictable the political waters are at the moment you could do better than compare and contrast the two utterly different forecasts of what will happen over the next few months which were put forward on the Political Betting blog as two of their regular posters gave their predictions for 2019.

Both the individuals concerned - Alistair Meeks and David Herdson - are in my opinion very shrewd political observers whose judgement I take seriously and it was striking to read how many issues they take a different view about what is most likely to happen - though both are wise enough to admit that they are only making a judgement call about what they think the most probably outcome, not for a moment claiming to know for certain.

One thinks that Mrs May will eventually get her deal through, the other doesn't.

One thinks that there will be another Brexit referendum, the other doesn't.

One thinks that Britain will leave the EU at the end of March 2019, the other doesn't.

One thinks that there will be a General Election in 2019, the other doesn't.

There are, however, some things that both do agree about

1) It's going to be a dramatic year, but probably not an easy one.

Alistair Meeks writes that

"Whatever happens, large groups of people are going to be appalled by what happens in the coming year. The only question is which groups. The losers, and perhaps any winners, are going to reorganise themselves accordingly. 

At the end of it all, confidence in politics and politicians will be at an all-time low and the country will be more divided than ever before. I’d wish you a happy and prosperous New Year but I’m not expecting that for very many of us. Cheers!"

David Herdson suggests that 2019 will be the most dramatic year in British politics for decades and that

"One of the Christmas cards I received this year wished me a dull, dull 2019, alluding (I hope) to Brexit and the famed Chinese proverb. It will be, I fear, a wish in vain."

On that at least I think both of them are absolutely right.

2) There may be changes in the leadership of Britain's major political parties

Alistair Meeks does not expect either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May to still be leader of their respective party at the end of 2019. David Herdson thinks it is likely that at least one, and possibly all three, of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties will change leaders in the coming year.

We shall see!

You can read the predictions from Alistair Meeks here and those from David Herdson here.

Twelve Days of Christmas.

For the past couple of centuries the tradition associated with Christmas was that the season runs from the 25th December for twelve days. Under that tradition Christmas decorations were put up at some point between Advent Sunday (four Sundays before 25th December) and Christmas Eve and then removed by midnight on Twelfth Night (5th January.)

Traditions evolve and change: more than one person said to my wife this morning that they had already taken down their Christmas decorations, in one case on Boxing Day (26th December, also known as the Feast of Stephen.)

If that's what people want to do, good luck to them, but having had such a long wait for Christmas I would like to continue to celebrate the season of Peace and Goodwill for a while longer while it is still officially here. And in that spirit my music spot for today is the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Matthew jumps the shark

I have a lot of time for Matthew Parris. I often agree with much of what he writes and usually find that his articles help me to clarify my own thoughts even when I strongly disagree.

But he's jumped the shark this morning by openly arguing that MPs should defy the result of the referendum. (Which most of them were elected on manifesto promises to respect - more than 80% of voters in last year's election voted for parties which said they would implement the referendum result and leave the EU.)

Those who are registered with Times Newspapers, either to read the allowance of free items which can be accessed each week or who pay, can read his article by clicking on it's title which is as follows:

"MPs must be brave and tell us we were wrong."

Yes, it was close, and 52:48 is close enough to make it reasonable for those whic are charged with  implementing the decision to try to carry as much of the country as possible with them, and negotiate a deal which minimises the difficulties risks that a very large minority were concerned about as long as it does actually take us out of the EU.

Close enough to make it entirely unreasonable for those who want the most hard-line possible form of Brexit to anyone who supports a less extreme form which does not precisely correspond with their own views of treachery or treason.

But the problem we are facing of people in the "political class" coalescing around extreme views and refusing to compromise, which has exacerbated divisions and is creating a real risk of making Brexit a failure, or far less successful than it should have been, depending on your perspective, is just as pervasive on the Remain side as the Leave side and Matthew's article illustrates this point perfectly.

The winning margin in the referendum was over a million votes. Easily enough to make it unlikely that tweets from Russian bots, or failings in the way the Leave campaigns managed their campaign finance, actually changed the results or to credibly argue that any of the evidence of malpractice which we have seen actually invalidated it.

There were arguments against promising an EU membership referendum in the first place, arguments which prior to 2011 I agreed with. But if you win an election in which you promise to hold a referendum and respect the result, which is what the Conservatives did in 2015, you cannot then go back on that promise and pretend to believe in democracy. And both Labour and the Conservatives promised in the 2017 election to respect the result of the 2016 referendum.

MPs who did as Matthew wishes and ignored that would not just be brave, but showing contempt for the electorate.

Quote of the day 29th December 2018

"The logic for a second referendum has always been flawed. The idea that because parliament can’t decide, the matter should be referred back to the people only makes sense if the people have a clear preference (which they don’t), if there is a simple binary choice to be made (there isn’t), and if parliament is determined to implement the public decision, which if it was it wouldn’t need to ask them in the first place. 

And that’s besides the substantial risk of the public endorsing a No Deal outcome, or the damage that an even more divisive campaign than the first referendum would do to the British body politic.

Besides, it’s extremely hard to practically legislate for a referendum while the ratification process is still ongoing but once that process is over, the need for a public vote to ratify it vanishes." 

(David Herdson, from an article with predictions for 2019 on the Political Betting blog which you can read in full here.)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A carol for the third day of Christmas: The Crown of Roses (Tchaikovsky)

Quote of the day 27th December 2018

"Who would have thought that in 2018 it would be deemed controversial to uphold the principle of free speech? Whatever else the events of this year have taught us, it is now clear that the fundamental human right to express oneself as one sees fit is under threat."

"The time is ripe seriously to consider how we might retaliate against the creeping authoritarianism of our age."

"Those who were active in the civil-rights movements of the ‘New Left’ in the Sixties and Seventies understood that free speech is the linchpin of all other struggles for equality. But today it is mostly well-intentioned activists on the left who are calling on the state to constrict the Overton window."

"Worse still, in a world in which social media have become the de facto public square, and online platforms are controlled by powerful likeminded CEOs, we are left with the paradoxical phenomenon of self-identified leftists seeking to empower huge corporations to set the parameters of acceptable thought. Those who claim that censorship can only be enacted by the state are making arguments that are over 20 years out of date."

"With any luck, 2019 will be the year in which we stop indulging the authoritarians who wish to impose their worldview on the rest of us. As the tech giants double down, those who believe in freedom must develop effective strategies of resistance." 

(Andrew Doyle, extracts from an article in Spiked,

"Let's make free speech the great cause of 2019.")

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas

To everyone reading this who is a Christian, may the love and hope represented by the birth of the Christ Child be with you this Christmas.

To everyone reading this who has any faith, may your God be with you at this time.

To everyone reading this, wishing you and your family peace and happiness at this season and a healthy, happy and prosperous New year 2018.

Another Christmas Eve music spot: O come, O come, Emmanuel - The Piano Guys

A carol for Christmas Eve: The Lord at first did Adam make

Quote of the day 24th December 2018

N.B. This meme is shared as a joke. You can find a more serious assessment of the impact of GDPR here.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Simcha Rotem RIP

The last surviving resistance fighter of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 died yesterday at the age of 94.

Simcha Rotem, also known as Kazik, was one of the Jewish partisans who rose up against the Nazis when they began mass deportations from the Polish capital.

Armed only with small arms and improvised weapons about a thousand Jewish fighters made a heroic defence of the Warsaw Ghetto against a well-armed force of Nazi soldiers, including crack Waffen SS troops, which outnumbered them two to one.

When the Germans moved with overwhelming force to crush the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943 on the eve of Passover they expected to ship the entire remaining population to death camps within three days. Because of the heroic resistance of men and women like Simcha Rotem the Germans were unable to take the Ghetto without largely burning the entire area to the ground, and it took them five weeks and cost them more than a hundred casualties. The resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto was also a powerful symbol or resistance to Nazi tyranny and inspired many others to resist or revolt against them.

Thousands of Jewish fighters and civilians died in the uprising or were taken as prisoners to death camps where most of them were murdered, but Rotem helped scores of fighters escape through the drainage system. He then returned to take part in - and survive - the 1944 Warsaw Uprising led by Polish resistance fighters.

Rotem died in Jerusalem on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "His story will be with our people forever."

President Reuven Rivlin said: "Thank you for everything, Kazik. We promise to try every day to be deserving of the description 'human'."

Rest in Peace.

Rescue boat funding

This week shares of £1 million of grants of taxpayers' money to support rescue boats has been allocated to dozens of charities for life-saving equipment to help volunteer search teams save lives more quickly and easily.

  • · The rescue boat grant fund was launched in 2014 to provide £5 million over five years to independent search and rescue teams working on inland waterways. 
  • · Over the past 4 years, 201 bids have been successful, helping a total of 98 search and rescue charities. The money has already paid for 65 new boats in addition to launch vehicles, rafts, and safety equipment. 
  • · During 2018 to date there have been 57 successful bids for the latest round of the rescue boat grant fund. The funding will provide 15 new boats and a hovercraft.

Sunday carol: See Amid the Winter's Snow (King's College Cambridge)

Sunday music spot, number one: "Ave verum corpus" by William Byrd

Quote of the day 23rd December 2018

"Remainers like myself are in danger or repeating the mistake we made before the last referendum, running around like Chicken Licken, only to find that the sky never did fall in. Our country's possible futures do not, at lest at the outset, look to me very different. Skies do not fall in."

(Matthew Parris in a Times opinion piece yesterday, which if you are registered with Times Newspapers you can read in full online here)

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Paddy Ashdown RIP

It has been announced this evening that Paddy Ashdown, who was the longest-serving leader of the Liberal Democrats and perhaps the party's most charismatic leader, has died of cancer at the age of 77.

Before entering politics he served his country in the Royal Marines and then in SIS.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Lord Ashdown "served his country with distinction" in both his military and political careers.

"He dedicated his life to public service and he will be sorely missed," she said.

Lord Ashdown's contemporary as party leader, former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major, hailed his one-time political opponent as "a man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved - right up to the very end."

He added: "In government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent. In life, he was a much-valued friend."
The present Lib/Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said Lord Ashdown was "a great inspiration".
"He was full of life, full of ideas," he told BBC News.

Rest in Peace.

Could change in Cumbria's local government finally be on the way?

There was overwhelming support - including from myself - at the last Full Council meeting of Cumbria County Council for exploring the possibility of a move to "unitary" local government in the county.

This would mean that instead of seven councils and hundreds of councillors, of which is one is top tier (the county council) and six are district tier (Allerdale, Barrow, Carlisle, Copeland, Eden and South Lakes,) you would have one or two "unitary" councils each of which carries out all the functions currently handled by both of the existing tiers.

A single unitary authority would not mean that the county council was taking over the responsibilities of the districts: it would mean that all seven existing councils would be scrapped and replaced with a different type of council.

Unitary authorities which carry out all the functions of both tiers existed from 1889 to 1974 in England and Wales under the name "County Boroughs." they were scrapped in the 1974 local government reorganisation but made a comeback in some parts of the UK in the 1990's

The unitary model of local government presents three major advantages over a two-tier system.
The first is that it tends to be cheaper and more efficient because their are fewer councils. 

Under the present system Cumbria currently has nearly 370 County and District councillors although the number of councillors is due to drop by 37 in May next year as a result of boundary reviews in Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland. Under a unitary model with one or two councils the number of councillors and senior officers would be significantly lower.  

A council is required to have a Head of Paid Service, a section 151 officer, and a monitoring officer (these roles are usually performed by a Chief Executive, a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Legal Officer,)  We would no longer need seven of each of these, not to mention seven legal departments, seven finance departments, seven human resources departments, etc, etc, etc.

It has been estimated that going down from seven councils to one would save about £28 million a year or down to two about £17 million a year.

Perhaps more importantly, the current split of functions between county and district tiers creates massive potential for disagreements, logjams, stalemate, and "right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing" problems. Both tiers have responsibilities in planning, in public health, in flooding and drainage and in a number of other areas.

The county council is responsible for on-street parking and the districts for off-street parking: the districts for waste collection and the county for waste disposal. The districts' responsibility for planning includes power to put conditions and impose charges on developers which are essential to the County council's responsibilities to provide roads and education.

Different policies and agendas at these two levels can be a major cause of dysfunctional service and we have had more than one instance of councils threatening to take each other to court or take enforcement action against each other.   

The third argument for unitary local government is that it is much clearer who is responsible for any given service or decision and the electorate is likely to find it much easier to know who to go to and who to hold accountable.

The huge difficulty is agreeing how what geographical areas your unitary authorities should cover and how large they should be. Councils covering a larger area tend to be more efficient but also more remote and less accountable. 

My personal opinion is that a system of two unitary authorities for Cumbria, perhaps working together as a "combined authority" on some issues, would be a big improvement on the current situation but that the immense geographical area of Cumbria is just two big for a single council to be representative and responsive.  I didn't support the previous proposal for one council for Cumbria and would have to think very carefully about whether to support it now if that's what comes forward again. But I would certainly support any reasonable two-council solution. 

Previous attempts to agree a system of unitary authorities in this area failed because of this kind of disagreement about how many councils there should be and covering what boundaries.

I gather that Cumbria County Council's cabinet agreed at Thursday's county council county cabinet meeting to make a formal expression of interest to the government putting forward a number of options for unitary local government, including both the single council model and several two-council models.

I also gather that the view was even expressed at the meeting that a change along these lines is "inevitable," though I am reminded of the expression "there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip."

It will be interesting to see what happens. I hope a good proposal can come forward.

Saturday music spot: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Quote of the day 22nd December 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

Counterfactual of the year

There was a plausible and amusing counterfactual essay on Political Betting this week by Alistair Meeks which asks

"Where would we be now if Remain had won 52:48?"

I think mony remainers and leavers alike with an interest in politics will find it entertaining.

Kent Estuary by-election results

The outcome of the two local government by elections yesterday (20/12/2018) in South Lakes were as follows:

Kent Estuary Electoral Division
(Cumbria County Council)

Pete MCSWEENEY (Liberal Democrats): 1,381 (elected)
Tom HARVEY (Conservative Party): 666
Jill ABEL (Green Party): 109
Kate Malinda Holly LOVE (Labour Party): 70

Turnout: 44.22%

Arnside and Milnthorpe Ward
(South Lakeland District Council - covers the same area as the Kent Estuary County division)

Helen CHAFFEY (Liberal Democrats): 1,319 (elected)
Rachel ASHBURNER (Conservative Party): 709
Jill ABEL (Green Party): 125
Kate Malinda Holly LOVE (Labour Party): 68

Turnout: 44.22%

Both seats were retained by the Lib/Dems on a very creditable turnout for an election less than a week before Christmas.

Congratulations to Pete McSweeney and Helen Chaffey on their election: commiserations to the unsuccessful candidates particularly Tom Harvey and Rachel Ashburner who worked extremely hard

Fiona Onasanya should resign

The MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya, has been convicted of perverting the course of justice by conspiring to lie to the authorities about a speeding ticket.

She has been suspended from the Labour party.

Almost everyone who drives has sometimes broken the law by driving too fast and it would be hypocrisy to get too outraged over someone driving at 41mph in a 30pmh limit.

However, the fact that nearly everyone does it doesn't make it a good idea and it is right that there are penalties in place to discourage all drivers from going to fast and encourage us to pay more attention to the safety of ourselves and all other road users. Lying to the authorities to try to evade those penalties is conduct well short of the standard of behaviour which should be expected of an MP.

Former Lib/Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne, after conspiring with his former wife to evade a speeding ticket, eventually pleaded guilty and had the decency to resign from parliament rather than bringing it and himself into further disrepute by having to be removed.

If Fiona Onasanya had any common sense she would now do the same thing and resign so that the electors of Peterborough can choose a new MP.

She has instead compared herself to Jesus Christ, Moses, and various biblical figures, saying,

“In times like these, the natural inclination of believers is to ask God: why? 

I personally do not, because in my experience the answers are usually far above and beyond my reach. 

What I do know is that I am in good biblical company, along with Joseph, Moses, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, who were each found guilty by the courts of their day. “While God did not save them from a guilty verdict, he did save them in it and ensured that their greatest days of impact were on the other side of a guilty verdict. 

Of course this is equally true of Christ, who was accused and convicted by the courts of his day and yet this was not his end but rather the beginning of the next chapter in his story.”

The next chapter in Onasanya's story is that having been convicted this week she and her brother are expected to be sentenced next month. Chris Huhne and his ex wife got eight months for a very similar offence, though they had pleaded guilty.

If an MP is sentenced to more than a year in prison he or she automatically loses his or her seat so there is a by-election. If he or she gets a prison sentence less than that- including a suspended one - the House of Commons authorities will automatically open a petition when the appeal period expires (or after any appeal process is exhausted) to see whether the electors want to demand a by-election. The rules provide that

"The Petition Officer will open a recall petition after the Speaker of the House of Commons notifies them that an MP has been: 
  •  convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) or ordered to be detained, other than solely under mental health legislation  
  • barred from the House of Commons for 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, or  
  • convicted of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. 

In the case of a conviction, the recall petition will not be opened unless the appeal period expires without the conviction, sentence or order having been overturned or all appeals have been heard and dismissed. 

Once a Petition Officer has opened a recall petition, it will be open for signing for 6 weeks. If at least 10% of the electorate in the constituency signs the petition, the MP will lose their seat and a by-election will be triggered. The recalled MP can stand as a candidate at the by-election.

Quote of the day 21st December 2018

"Dear Mr. President: 

I have been privileged to serve as our country's 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals. 

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy"

"One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. 

Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. 

NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions - to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. 

That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense. My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. 

We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances." 

"Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."

General James Mattis
Extracts from his resignation letter as US Secretary of State for Defence.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Kent Estuary by-elections today

Polls are now open in today's two local government by-elections in the Milnthorpe and Arnside area (20th December 2018).

Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm this evening. If you are on the electoral register for the relevant area you do not need your polling card to vote (though if you don't have it, taking some other evidence of ID might be a good idea.)

The elections were caused by the sad death of councillor Ian Stewart.

Councillor Tom Harvey and Rachel Ashburner, and the Conservative candidates in these elections, standing respectively to represent the Kent Estuary division of Cumbria County Council and the Arnside & Milnthorpe ward of South Lakes DC.

I believe that both these candidates (pictured below) would be good, effective and hard-working councillors.

Quote of the day 20th December 2018

American economist Thomas Sowell explains why clever people cause the worst disasters ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Music to relax after campaigning: "The Shepherds' Farewell" (Berlioz)

Campaigning in Kent Estuary

Another visit to Kent Estuary today for the Eve-of-poll knock-up for tomorrow's council by-elections. Cllr Tom Harvey and Rachel Ashburner, Conservative candidates for respectively the Kent Estuary Cumbria County council division and the Arnside & Milnthorpe South Lakes District Council ward, have been working hard and I with them the best of luck. I believe that they would make very good councillors if elected tomorrow.

Quote of the day 19th December 2019

"Just because you've put your seat belt on doesn't mean you have to crash the car."

(Comment attributed by the media to Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

North-West Region Conservative election results

The results of the elections for Regional officers for the North-West region of the Conservative party have been announced this week and are as follows.

The new chairman of the voluntary party in the North West is

Cllr Michael Winstanley (Wigan Council)

who takes over from Sir Robert Atkins

The new deputy chairman (political and campaigning) is myself, in succession to Cllr Kevin Beaty.

The new deputy chairman (membership and finance) is

Katherine Fletcher

who takes over from Cllr Christian Wakeford.

Congratulations to Michael and Katherine and I am looking forward to working with them.

Commiserations and better fortune in the future to those who were not successful this time, and thanks to Robert, Kevin and Christian for their hard work over the past year.

Key points from Health Scrutiny

Important issues from today's meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

(More detailed report to follow )

*  A powerful presentation from Healthwatch Cumbria, CCC and two clients of the relevant service on what a good life looks like for people with learning disabilities.

During the course of the discussion it came out that (on national figures) life expectancy if 14 years shorter for men with learning disability than those without and 18 years shorter for women with disabilities than those without - the shortfall of life expectancy for women with learning disabilities being particularly bad and sufficiently worse than that for men as to reverse the usual pattern of longevity.  There was some discussion during other relevant agenda items about what could be done about this.

* Top level progress reviews of the proposed merger of the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust and the Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, of the future of mental health care in Cumbria, and of the implementation of "Healthcare for the future" (e.g. the Success Regime review)

* There were important reports on digital patient records from the trusts and CCGs covering North and South Cumbria, which sparked off a lot of discussion.

Time to batten down again ...

Another stormy day.

Do take care if you have to travel.

Quote of the day Tuesday 18th December 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

Whitehaven Relief road consultation - THREE DAYS TO GO

The current public consultation about a possible A595 relief road for Whitehaven finishes later this week at close of play on Wednesday (19th December 2018.)

I believe and make no apology for repeating that this has the potential to deliver major benefits for the local economy and for the quality of life of residents of the villages in West Cumbria currently affected by rat-running because the A595 is not coping with existing demand and in particular to improve the viability of West Cumberland Hospital and outcomes for patients.

This is a first stage consultation by Highways England who have not yet defined a route for the proposed new road and they continue to assure me that they are genuinely interested in suggestions from local stakeholders and the public about where the road should go.

One of the suggestions which has been discussed between local county councillors and Highways England is the possibility that the relief road could include a spur to the hospital. The most likely route - East of Whitehaven from approximately the present Moresby roundabout at the South end of the Distington by-pass to a point between Westlakes and Moor Row - would make this relatively easy to add.

That would be a huge benefit by shortening the time for ambulances to take patients needing to get to WCH in a hurry - and I doubt if I need to spell out to anyone reading this the potential benefit in terms of patient outcomes - and it would also make it easier for staff and resources to get to the West Cumberland and thereby improve the viability of the hospital. 

The proposed new relief road is not dependent on Moorside and it is a serious proposal. At the start of this month Transport secretary Chris Grayling came in person to Copeland to kick off the consultation on the proposed Whitehaven Relief Road and announced his "Cast Iron Commitment" to improving Cumbria's Roads as you can read on the government website at

The consultation formally began on Wednesday 7th November 2018 and lasts until 19th December 2018. Consultation survey forms were sent out to residents in the Whitehaven area and for some distance around and I was pleased to learn that hundreds have already been returned.

You can find details consultation including a PDF of the consultation brochure and the questions being asked in the consultation, and respond online at

I believe that we need this road and that it would be particularly helpful if as many people as possible responded to the consultation and said so, and if they also included in their response that it would be a very good idea - and very probably save lives - if the relief road included a spur to West Cumberland Hospital.

It's a bit late to respond by post now but if you have not already responded to the consultation you can still do so using the following methods Wednesday:

  • Online – complete the response form online using the above link
  • Email your response to: 

Did I mention that all responses should be submitted by Wednesday 19 December 2018?

Quote of the day Monday 17th Dece3mber 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday music spot: Rejoice in the Lord alway

I chose this piece because it is a setting of the words of this morning's New Testament lesson, from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (Ch 4 verses 4:7)

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
And again I say, Rejoice!
Let your softness be known unto all men
The Lord is even at hand
Be careful for nothing
But in all prayer and supplication let your petitions be manifest unto God
with giving of thanks
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
Keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I once had a humorous dictionary of church music and one of the first entries was

"Anon, short for anonymous: a composer with many pseudonyms including Farrant Tye and Redford."

E.g. there are a lot of pieces of music where nobody is quite sure who really deserves the credit but which have commonly attributed to a popular composer who wrote in the same style.

This piece has sometimes been attributed to Redford on precisely that basis but nobody is absoilutely certain who really wrote it.

Quote of the day Sunday 16th December 2018

"You cannot understand British politics until you grasp that the" (Labour) "party has been taken over by men (and the occasional woman) who spent their lives around the fag ends of the 20th-century Marxist-Leninist movement. 

It’s not that Labour now has a communist programme. Revolutionary socialism is as dead as any idea can be. 

Rather, Labour has inherited the mental deformations of the Leninist style of doing business: the leadership personality cult, the love of conspiracy theory, the robotic denunciations of opponents, and most critically for our current crisis, the ineradicable fantasy that the worse conditions for the masses become, the brighter the prospects of the far left are. Disaster socialism is its alternative to disaster capitalism."

(Nick Cohen in an article in today's Observer which you can read on the website here.)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Missed opportunities to use digital technology to improve the health journey.

Next Tuesday, Cumbria's Health Scrutiny Committee will be hearing reports on digitisation of patient records in the county. Interesting and important reports which in my view show that the NHS in Cumbria has a lot more to do.

It is therefore very timely that one of my colleagues on the committee has just drawn my attention to a blog post by Lisa Drake, who works for Seascale Medical practice.

Lisa is an advocate of making better use of digital technology to improve patient experience and care and the working lives of NHS staff.

She recently had an experience of being on the other side of the table when she needed an issue checked out in relation to her own health, and records her patient journey and experiences on her blog "What Lisa did next," here, in a post called "Digital Health - missed opportunities."

A lengthy post but well worth reading: there are few more comments from me about the implications of this which the NHS in Cumbria needs to take on board on my health blog here.  

I know the secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock is trying to encourage NHS Trusts to address and learn from this kind of issue and I hope we in Cumbria can do so.

Music to relax after campaigning: Bethlehemian Rhapsody

There have been brilliant parodies of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody but this version of the Nativity story has to be the best one ever

(Not least because the quality of the musical performance is close to being in the same class as the original and better than any other parody of this piece I have ever heard.)