Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My last post of 2019: Ring Out Wild Bells

Winners and Losers of 2019

As we come to the end of a year in which it has more than once been the case that people with opposite opinions have voted the same way, each gambling that blocking the "centre" position will break things their way, it is worth seeing who called it right.

It' wasn't always the side who one would have expected. I am reminded of a statement by William Lamb, a.k.a. Lord Melbourne:






WINNER OF THE YEAR:

Boris Johnson

He pretends to be a clown but he is nobody's fool. I think it is time to recognise that the PM is a far smarter political operator than any of his enemies or some of his friends give him credit for.

Yes, he's been lucky, especially in his political opponents. But he made some of his own luck - and exploited with ruthless effectiveness what was gifted to him.


LOSER OF THE YEAR:

Jeremy Corbyn

And thank God for the good sense of the British electorate in making it so.



WINNERS WHO OVERPLAYED THEIR HAND BUT GOT AWAY WITH IT:

The ERG and supporters of a hard (not "no deal") Brexit.

I am still convinced that the ERG and those who voted with them against the Theresa May deal because they wanted a harder Brexit were taking a huge risk of ending up with no Brexit at all. They got what they wanted for three reasons

1) Boris Johnson

2) In the end, amazingly to some of us, the hard Brexit supporters turned out to be more pragmatic and have better judgement than the ultra-Remainers and soft-Brexit supporters and to have a better idea of when to declare victory and take what was on the table. To be precise, Boris Johnson did, and the Brexiteers had the sense to follow him.

3) The proponents of a "soft Brexit" or no Brexit at all turned out to be more divided and far more incompetent than the supporters of a hard Brexit.



LOSERS WHO OVERPLAYED THEIR HAND AND DIDN'T GET AWAY WITH IT

The DUP

The outcome of the 2017 general election handed the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland what amounted to a veto over the policies of the UK government. For two years they were in an immensely strong position in parliament.

But although I think the DUP deserve a much more sympathetic hearing than they ever get from the mainstream British press or political class, most of whom understand Ireland even less well than they understand quantum physics (e.g. not at all in either case), the fact remains that the DUP massively overplayed their hand.

A government which was effectively at their mercy has transformed into one which no longer has the slightest need for DUP votes and, worse, is nearly as fed up with the DUP as the DUP are with Boris Johnson. This is not at all healthy, and I hope that the government will pay attention to the needs of Northern Ireland, but I don't see it the problem being put right any time soon.


JO SWINSON  and the Liberal Democrats.

The joke has been made so many times as to become a cliché that the leader of the "Liberal Democrats" pursued a policy which was neither liberal nor democratic.

That's because it is true.

Stephen Bush has put forward the most credible explanation for her disastrous decision to tell 17.4 million people that she didn't give a damn what they voted for - that she was expecting Labour to move to an unambiguously pro-Remain position and needed to outflank them, and Boris Johnson to go for a no-deal position which would have made Leave far more frightening. In the event Boris got a deal where Corbyn stayed on the fence, leaving Jo Swinson stranded on an extreme position.

The only sad thing about Swinson losing her seat is that she lost it to the party which is arguably the most destructive force in 21st century British politics. 


REMAIN "ULTRAS"

Whether they were former Conservatives, Labour, Green or Lib/Dem, those who decided to save the electorate from itself and set themselves up to stop Brexit were putting themselves against the British voters. This rarely ends well, and it didn't end well for them.

They made it worse for themselves because the opponents of Brexit were hopelessly divided, hence the inability of the last House of Commons to pass almost anything positive - they knew what they were against but there never seemed to be a majority in that house for any practical course of action which was actually on the table, unless they put in some "poison pill" like the Letwin amendment.

They also greatly overestimated their support among the public - as they found out at 10pm on 12th December.



And finally:

You will notice that I have said nothing about the North of England, made only one passing reference to Scotland, and have not yet commented on the future of the Labour and Conservative parties.

The Brexit story, the future of the Labour and Conservative parties, and of Scotland, are tales which are not yet finished.

If the Labour party has the sense to take defeat in 2019 as the signal to reject Corbynism and move back to the centre, that defeat could for them be a blessing in excellent disguise.

Alternatively, if the Conservatives can deliver on our promises to the North, deliver a Brexit which people see as successful, and deliver our promises for the NHS, we could be in power into the 2030's.

If Conservatives are foolish enough to imagine that we won big because people love us, rather than being angry with the establishment over Brexit and having decided that they would rather saw off their own right arms with a rusty hacksaw than make Jeremy Corbyn PM, this victory could turn to ashes faster than anyone expects.

We have an urgent repair job to do on the Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. I don't know what's going to happen next, but Scotland is going to be one of the re-elected government's biggest challenges.

All that is for the future. Welcome to the 2020's!

The Economist on the difference between lying, mistakes, falsehoods and nonsense.

There is an excellent article by the Economist on calling out politicians and others who say things which are not true - and when we should accuse them of lying, talking nonsense, exaggerating, misleading people, or making a mistake.

If you are registered to read the Economist online, you can find a text version here.

There is also a very good video version featuring Lane Greene, the Economist's language correspondent who I presume to have been the main author of the article, with similar but not quite identical script and this is available to watch via twitter here

or on YouTube, which will play if you click on the window below -



As they rightly say (in the print version)

"Journalists should be tough when powerful people say untrue things. When those statements first hit the headlines, “false” packs plenty of punch. Reporters should demand to know the reason for the false statements."

But, to quote the video version, after encouraging people to use words like "nonsense" and "exaggeration" where those are more appropriate, Lane Green argues that:

"Using these exact terms will only make it more effective when we catch powerful people red-handed in a true, no-doubt-about-it, lie."

RPI versus CPI

There is no perfect measure of inflation.

I was challenged the other day for quoting the Retail Price Index (RPI) which was described as a "discredited measure."

I don't accept that but I do accept that it might have been helpful to quote both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and RPI measures and I have gone back and changed the post concerned to do so.

There are various ways to measure inflation and about the only thing which most economists and statisticians agree on is that no one measure is ideal for every purpose.

In my professional work I would usually look at all the main measures to get the best picture of what is going on and then use whichever seemed most relevant to the specific target group.

There is considerable disagreement among economists and statisticians about whether the RPI or the CPI is the better measure of inflation. But many would concur with the view which the distinguished economist and statistician Simon Briscoe of the gave in a note produced for the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) meeting held on 13 June 2018, as follows:

"There are many different purposes for a price index. No one price index fulfils any one of those stated purposes perfectly. No one index is perfect for all purposes. Considering the purpose of the price index is the obvious starting point for analysing its appropriateness."

I think that the RPI should be a tool in the locker, but the RPI advisory committee which ran for forty years until Gordon Brown's unwise decision to scrap it should be re-created, so that proper governance is in place which might have prevented the problems which the House of Lords recommended in January this year should be fixed.

If you use only RPI then I think there is a risk that you will overestimate the level of inflation, except during severe recessions.

If you use only CPI then I think there is a risk that you will underestimate the underlying level, and you may miss one warning indicator, the two diverging, which can indicate an unbalanced economy.,

You'll also miss a good recession indicator warning - when RPI goes lower than CPI.

Incidentally there are also governance issues with the CPI.

I am sympathetic to the view that the current policy of governments of all parties to "cherry pick" which index to use by uprating charges in line with RPI but using CPI to index payments, while helpful to the national finances, looks unfair to those who have to pay the former and receive the latter. We need a more consistent policy.

There ARE some economists who don't like RPI at all and would scrap it, but I think the recommendation which the House of Lords took in January 2019 - keep it as one of a package of measures but fix the issues they highlighted - is a more balanced view.

Quote of the day 31st December 2019


Monday, December 30, 2019

Domestic abuse is wrong whoever does it

Levels of domestic abuse in Copeland and in Cumbria as a whole are shocking and have been for some time.

That would be true even just based on the figures for recorded incidents but it is suspected that for every reported case there are many instances for which no complaint is made.

The stereotypical case, which does represent the most common type of abuse, is men attacking their female partners, which is of course completely intolerable behaviour, but the most recent figures show a substantial amount of violence by women against men and within same-sex relationships and this is also totally unacceptable.

It does not help matters that the media does not always take violence against men seriously and sometimes publishes incredibly unhelpful stories. I recall being incensed when one national newspaper ran a disgraceful front page headline accusing two actors who played on-screen tough guys of being "big girls' blouses" in real life over suggestions that their female partners had assaulted them. This sort of thing is not just victim-blaming, but downright dangerous.

If the stories were accurate, both men could probably have put the women concerned in hospital had they hit back. If the paper had meant to imply that they were somehow less masculine because they didn't do so it is difficult to see how the headline would have been different.

Here in Cumbria, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics show a horrifying rise of 113% in domestic violence reports in the county. Between 2016/17 there were 2,703 domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by police. This figure jumped to 5,764, more than doubling, by 2018/19.

Cumbria Police released figures showing they have recorded 7,402 incidents of domestic abuse in 2019 to date.

Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said:

“Domestic violence has to be one of the most unpleasant things the police have to deal with. For anyone who has to endure it, at any time of the year, it’s an awful thing.

“I would just say to people, you do not have to endure domestic violence of any sort. Please get in touch with the police and they will take it extremely seriously." 

Detective Chief Inspector Dan St Quintin, who is leading a campaign to encourage victims to come forward, said:

“We are finding that there is an increase in male victims of domestic abuse coming forward and reporting abuse there is a great support group that works out of Safety Net in Carlisle and they run a group for men and that is really supportive, and there is other across the county.

“It’s a myth that it is just a male on female thing, we find that there are more and more male victims coming forward, although the proportion of female victims to male victims is roughly 70 per cent female to 30 per cent male.

“We get reports now from same-sex relationships, it isn’t a heterosexual thing, domestic abuse happens in all relationships. "

It is of course possible that some of the rise in these statistics represents an increased willingness to report domestic abuse, which would be a good, thing, rather than a rise in actual violence. The one thing we can say for certain is that it is much too high.

Monday music spot: "While shepherds watched" to Lyngham

Quote of the day 30th December 2019

"I think I know why reasonable argument is no longer possible. It's social media. When you had to express your displeasure in the past you wrote a letter and you enclosed your address so that someone could reply. This meant you had to watch your language and your manners. Not any more. Now your can hide behind a blanket of anonymity and say anything you like."

(Jeremy Clarkson, writing in the Sunday Times yesterday about the effect of anonymous social media posts on the level of courtesy and constructive engagement in modern public discourse.)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Blair's legacy

An interesting piece by Philip Thompson on Political Betting about Blair's legacy here.

And a warning to all political parties, especially when messing about with the constitution:

1) Be careful what you wish for

2) Beware the law of unintended consequences
3) These warnings particularly apply when setting up one-sided changes to the constitution. Changes which you think will give you an unfair advantage can have precisely the opposite long-term effect ...

Sunday music spot: Joy to the World

Quote of the day 29th December 2019


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Saturday music spot: Angels, from the Realms of Glory

New Years Honours list continued

My previous post mentioned that Cumbrians honoured by Her Majesty in the New Year's honours list included:
  • Paul Foster, departing boss at Sellafield, who has been awarded a CBE for "services to business
  • John Hudson, BAE Systems, has also been made a CBE for "services to the Royal Navy and to Naval Shipbuilding and Design." 
  • Professor John Howarth, Deputy Chief Executive of the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust and visionary local health leader - and local GP - has been made an MBE for "services to General Practice."

Other Cumbrians honoured this year include:
  • Ms Sascha Hilary Wells-Munro of Kendal who receives an OBE "for services to the NHS and patient safety." 
  • Mr Ben Stokes of Cockermouth and the Enlgand cricket team receives an OBE "for Services to Sport." 
  • Ms Elizabeth Cornford of Grange-over-Sands has been awarded the MBE "for services to Young People." 
  • Mr John Butler of Ulverston also becomes and MBE, "for services to Further Education." 
  • Mr Mark McCree of Kendal has been awarded the British Empire Medal "for services to Public Libraries." 
  • Mr John Shakeshaft of Ulverston also receives the BEM "for services to Young People in Ulverston." 
  • Ms Cassandra Rees of Greenheys receives a BEM "for services to the Community in Cumbria."

New Year's Honours list 2020

1097 people have been honoured by the Queen in the 2020 New Year's Honours list.

On a first read through I noticed a number of distinguished Cumbrians were honoured

These included

* Paul Foster who has just retired as head of Sellafield, has been awarded a CBE

* John Hudson, BAE Systems, has also been made a CBE

* Professor John Howarth, Deputy Chief Executive of the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust and visionary local health leader, has been made an MBE.

Congratulations to them and to all the people honoured.

In relation to this honours list as a whole,

  • 789 (72%) of the recipients are people who have undertaken outstanding work in their communities either in a voluntary or paid capacity. 
  • 556 women are recognised in the List, representing 51% of the total 
  • 9.1% of the successful candidates come from a BAME background 
  • 11% of the successful candidates consider themselves to have a disability (under the Equality Act 2010) 
  • 3.3% of recipients identified as being LGBT+

Quote of the day for 28th December 2019


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Quote of the day for Boxing day 2019

“Only twenty-seven people in Britain can explain why the day after Christmas Day is called Boxing Day, but that doesn't stop millions from marking it by staying home from work. An intriguing side effect of thus having two consecutive public holidays is that no matter what days of the week they fall on, the British can easily justify taking the whole week off."


(Alan Beechey, from "Murdering Ministers: An Oliver Swithin Mystery.")

Music spot for St Stephen's Day (26th December) Good King Wenceslas

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas

No more political posts for a few days, though I shall put up a few uplifting quotations and some of my favourite Christmas music.

I shall sign off with a similar message to the one I have used for the last two or three years:


Warmest good wishes and seasonal greetings to everyone reading this

To everyone reading this who is a Christian, may the spirit of the Christ child, the love of Mary, the faithfulness of Joseph, the joy of the Angels, the wonder of the Shepherds, the wisdom of the Magi, and the Peace of God be with you this Christmastide.

To anyone reading this who follows a faith other than Christianity, may your God be with you at this time.

To everyone reading this including anyone who does not have a religious faith, I wish you peace, health and happiness and hope you are refreshed by a wonderful holiday with the people you love.

And to all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year 2020.

Christmas Eve music spot: Steeleye Span sing "The Boar's Head Carol"

January meeting of Cumbria County Council

The January meeting of Cumbria County Council will be held at 10 am on Thursday 9th January in the Council Chamber at County Hall in Kendal.

The meeting will be open to the public - or at least, to those members who can afford to take a day off and spend it in Kendal.

The Agenda can be found on the County Council website here.

Items of interest

1) The annual presentation from Cumbria Constabulary

2) A presentation from the "Children in Care Council."

In the interests of transparency I should probably also mention that County Councillor's allowances for the forthcoming year are also on the agenda. The Independent Review Panel is recommending that the basic allowance and most special responsibility allowances be increased by 2%.

This compares with the latest inflation figures from ONS of a 2.2% increase on the RPI measure but only 1.5% increase year on year to November on the CPI measure.

Suspect there may be some debate around this ...

Quote of the day for Christmas Eve 2019


Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Maya Forstater case is more complex than either side would have you believe

I have stayed out of the argument on Twitter about the Maya Forstater case because I do not believe it is possible to do justice to either side in 280 characters and feelings are running so high on both sides that you cannot get a nuanced argument into the debate.

This was the employment tribunal case which got J.K. Rowling into so much trouble for a tweet which began with the words

"Dress however you please. 
Call yourself whatever you like. 
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. 
Live your best life in peace and security." 

but then went on to refer to the Maya Forstater case in a way which Rowling's supporters took to mean that women should not be sacked for expressing opinions that other people disagree with, and her critics took to be an endorsement of disrespect to trans people.

This legal case has understandably caused great concern to people who believe in free speech. It is, unfortunately, all too easy to take phrases from the legal judgement by Judge James Tayler on the Maya Forstater case which, stripped of their full context, sound outrageous.

Equally, anyone who ploughs through the full 26-page judgement may well come to the conclusion, as I did, that this case is far more complex and difficult than the more outspoken partisans on either side would have you believe. And, in fact, that both the interpretations of J.K. Rowling's tweet
which I gave above can be defended.

As I understand the judgement it did not - as some people seem to think it did - mean that women can now be fired just for criticising self-identification or for objecting to trans women having automatic access to women’s prisons and domestic violence shelters.

The ruling explicitly says that it is “quite possible to accept that trans women are women but still argue that there are certain circumstances in which it would be justified to exclude certain trans women”, for example, from services used by rape victims or potentially traumatised women, just as the law currently allows.

In other words the ruling specifically does not say that you can lose your job for arguing, for instance, that vulnerable women may need protection from some people with male bodies who self-identify as women or that it might not be a good idea to allow convicted rapists with male bodies to serve their sentences in a women's prison because they self-identify as women without any measures to protect the other inmates.

The judge ruled that Forstater's beliefs passed four of the five tests of a protected belief, but failed the fifth test because she refuses to accept the validity of Gender Reassignment Certificates which legally change someone's sex and insists on the right to refer to someone by the gender she thinks appropriate even if that creates an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for that person.

As I understand the ruling, the problem was demanding the right to treat people in that way, and this, not the opinions expressed, was what failed the test for a protected belief.

One of the few nuanced and balanced pieces on the subject, by Gaby Hinscliffe in the Guardian, can be read here.

As so often in life, the whole truth is more messy and more difficult that the ardent partisans on either side of an argument would have you believe.

Bringing back bursaries

This Conservative Government will back nursing students with a new £5,000 grant – making sure the NHS has the staff it needs to deliver world-class care for you and your family.
  • From September 2020, all new and continuing degree-level nursing, midwifery and many allied health students will benefit from guaranteed additional support of £5,000 a year to help with their living costs. 
  • Additional payments of up to £3,000 will be available for students in regions or specialisms struggling to recruit, or to help students cover childcare costs. 

The NHS is our number one priority - which is why this Conservatives administration will be the first government to legislate to guarantee our multi-year funding increase of £33.9 billion.

Sunday Music Spot: The Shepherds' Farewell, Hector Berlioz

Quote of the day 22nd December 2019

"From a historical point of view, I think when people look back at this period and they examine the extent of the Labour defeat.

"I think people will look back and think, 'hang on - people voted for something in 2016 and then lots of people in the political establishment in Westminster spent three years trying to undo that. What?'

"People thought we would be out the next day. Politicians on both sides, including the then Prime Minister David Cameron stood on platforms and said 'if you vote this way, it will happen.'

"They said there was no going back, and that this wasn't a vote that you can have a second opinion on."

"Lo and behold, three years later people are scratching their heads in the Labour Party, thinking maybe that was a bit of problem that they were trying to undo something that people voted for. 

"There are perfectly legitimate reasons for people to campaign for a second referendum." 

"But, covering it as a story, to me it just seemed like, people voted for that. 

"It’s not your job to undo it!"

(BBC correspondent Laura Kuenssberg on how people looking back in the future may see the last three years.)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Reflections on the Winter Solstice and the date of Christmas

Tomorrow, Sunday 22nd December, is the winter solstice (in the Northern hemisphere): the shortest day of the year.

It's not the coldest day of the year - it will continue to get colder for several weeks yet - but it is the darkest and for many people, the most depressing.

Going back for thousands of years, most cultures have had a celebration at about this time of year, to mark the fact that we have passed the point when there is least daylight and from here on the days start getting longer again.

For modern societies whose culture is based on Christianity, the festival of Christmas conveniently serves this purpose. There is nothing in the bible from which the precise date of the birth of Jesus can be derived or even which year (it is most likely to have been between the years which our current calendar labels as 6BC and 6AD.)

Whatever the basis for the selection of 25th December as the date for Christmas, this decision was made a long, long time ago: the earliest known records of the celebration of Christmas on 25th December go back to 336 AD and the Roman Empire.  However, there are also records dating back to the same century which suggest an alternative date to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 6th January. Christians in Armenia still to this day celebrate Christmas on 6th January.

The Western Christian church resolves the conflict between these two dates by celebrating the 25th of December as the date when Jesus was born and 6th January as Epiphany, the anniversary of the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, with the twelve days from one to the other being the twelve days of Christmas.

It is often alleged that the Church deliberately picked 25th December to coincide with ancient pagan festivals of the winter solstice: this allegation is extremely old, dating back to the twelfth century, but there are problems with it. For a start, old as the allegation is, the earliest known instance of it being made in a note in the margin of a manuscript on the writings of the biblical commentator Dionysus is still eight centuries later than the earliest celebrations of Christmas on 25th December back in 336AD. So we are talking about a theory put forward centuries after the event, not any kind of evidence.

Further, the arguments which are often advanced in favour of the theory - relating to the pagan traditions which have often been associated with Christmas - inconveniently fail to take account of the fact that, at the time in the fourth century when Christmas was set on 25th December the Christians of that era were not notably influenced by pagan traditions and indeed usually attempted to emphasises their differences from them. (Most of the pagan trimmings which have since become associated with the popular celebration of Christmas were not adopted until many, many centuries after the adoption of the date of 25th December.)

Those who are interested in looking into the matter further may find this site informative.

I suspect however that for most of us, after a long and busy year, we are glad to have reached a much needed holiday break. I wish everyone who is reading this, and their families, a Happy Christmas and a prosperous, happy and healthy New Year 2020.

Getting Brexit done

Parliament has passed a historic milestone towards leaving the European Union, backing Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill by a thumping majority of 124, a week after the Conservatives won a landslide victory in the general election.

After comfortably passing its second reading by 358 votes to 234, the withdrawal agreement bill is on track to complete its passage through both houses of parliament in time to allow Britain to leave the European Union at the end of January.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Boris Johnson called on the British public to discard the labels of leave and remain as MPs prepared to take a historic step towards withdrawing the UK from the EU.

As far as I am concerned, once this had been put to the public in a referendum, the result of that vote had to be honoured. It was no longer just about Brexit but about democracy.

Brendan O'Neill has a piece in Spiked called "The End of Remain" which amplifies the point.

Saturday music spot: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"

Quote of the day 21st December 2019



Friday, December 20, 2019

Unleashing Britain's Potential

Yesterday's radical Queen’s Speech, the most radical in a generation, set out how we will deliver Brexit and unleash Britain's potential – it will take us out of the EU, overhaul our immigration system, and will enshrine in law record investment for the NHS. 

It will take our country forward with an ambitious One Nation programme to unite and spread opportunity to every corner of our United Kingdom.

The Queens's speech set out how we will:
  • Enshrine in Law an increase in NHS funding - Legislation will enshrine in law the largest cash settlement in the NHS’s history and we will deliver the NHS Long Term Plan in England to ensure our health service is fit for the future. 
  • Bring an end to free movement and introduce an Australian-style points based system – Our Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination Bill will create a modern, fair, points-based immigration system which will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services. 
  • Transform environmental protections – our new Environment Bill will transform our environmental governance once we leave the EU by putting environmental principles into law, introducing legally binding targets, and establishing a new Office for Environmental Protection. 
  • Enhance and protect workers’ rights – as the UK leaves the EU we will introduce a new Employment Bill, making Britain the best place in the world to work. 
  • Re-set our foreign policy in 2020 through an Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review led by the Prime Minister. This will be the most radical reassessment of our place in the world since the end of the Cold War, covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development.

Getting Brexit done and moving on

Today, with the EU withdrawal bill moving forward in parliament, we  start to get Brexit done and deliver on the promise we made to the British people - meaning we can move forward and then, at the beginning of the new decade, at the beginning of a new dawn for our country, our parliamentarians will return to Westminster to immediately finish the job, take us out of the EU on 31 January and move this country forward.

After years of delay in Parliament, we will get Brexit done and deliver certainty for hard-working businesses and people across this country will have a firm foundation on which to plan for the future.

  • Next year will be a great year for our country – the year we get Brexit done, boost NHS funding, invest in infrastructure and level up access to opportunity and prosperity across our great nation. 
  • It will mark the start of a new decade where the United Kingdom will champion trade, innovation and science and meet global challenges with old friends and new across the world. 
  • Our commitment to continue the highest standards on workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections will be honoured by provisions in separate legislation, including the Employment Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech.

Employment at record high

New figures this week showed that the employment rate is at a record high – and wages have risen faster than prices for 21 months in a row, showing how this One Nation Conservative Government will continue to help people with the cost of living.

  • Figures show that average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.5 per cent compared with a year earlier. 
  • In addition, the employment rate, and the number of people in full-time work are at record highs, just showing the progress we've made on improving our economy since 2010. 

This Conservative Government will invest in people’s priorities, and help them with the cost of living, including by increasing the National Living Wage to £10.50 per hour by 2024, and raising the National Insurance Contribution threshold, saving around £100 for 31 million people next year.

Quotes of the day 20th December 2019

"Following last week’s remarkable election result, in which scores of working-class, Leave-backing Labour seats went Tory for the first time ever, anti-working-class bile was spewing from various prominent Labour supporters in the media. Labour activist and journalist Paul Mason wrote in the New Statesman that ‘at no point did Labour “desert” the working class. But a section of it deserted us last night, and I am not going to flinch from stating that in the places it did so there is now a toxic narrative of nativism and xenophobia’.

"Leave voters have been accused of racism and stupidity time and again since 2016. But up to now, Remainers would at least pretend, some of the time, that they were talking about middle-class Leavers in the Tory shires. But the defection of working-class Leavers to the Tories has brought to the surface the clear class-hatred element of all this. Months of left-Remainers spuriously suggesting that working-class people didn’t really back Brexit, or did so somewhat reticently, has now been blown out of the water. And Labourites’ and Remainers’ loathing of ordinary people is now on full show.

"Most troubling in all this is the way in which anti-working-class bigotry is now laundered through apparent anti-racism. Despite the clear decline in racism in recent decades, the cultural and political elites have carved out a narrative that it is worse than ever before, particularly among Those People who drive white vans, support Brexit and dislike Jeremy Corbyn. In doing so, alleged left-wingers have made class hatred respectable and anti-racist politics look cut-off and vaguely ridiculous. Which is bad news for both class politics and anti-racist politics.


"That the left needs to learn lessons from this historic defeat is obvious. What I’m wondering is if they are even capable of doing so. Many Labourites and liberals don’t only misunderstand working-class people — they genuinely despise them." 
(Tom Slater, extracts from an article in Spiked called "Woke class hatred.")

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Queen's Speech

Today's Queen's Speech set out the priorities of the re-elected Conservative government.

In last week’s Election, millions of people – many of whom have never voted Conservative before - put their faith in this People’s Government to deliver on the people’s priorities. 

  • We have no time to waste, we will begin today, with the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation. Our first task is to get Brexit done and we will leave the EU at the end of January. 
  • Our new deal is ready to go. 
  • We will avoid the trap of further dither and delay and rule out any extension to the implementation period beyond 2020. 


But our number one domestic priority is our NHS and at the heart of our Queen’s Speech is the first ever commitment to enshrine in law a multi-year NHS funding settlement, with an extra £33.9 billion per year – the largest cash injection in the history of the NHS. 

This is a radical Queen’s Speech – it will take us out of the EU, overhaul our immigration system, and will enshrine in law record investment for the NHS.

It will take our country forward with an ambitious One Nation programme to unite and spread opportunity to every corner of our United Kingdom.

We will work around the clock to repay the trust millions of voters placed in this People’s Government and that work starts with this Queen’s Speech.

This Queen’s Speech will deliver Brexit on 31 January and allow the Government to deliver on people’s priorities and unleash the country’s potential.

Quote of the day 19th December 2019

"Thank you for the trust you have placed in me. 

"We are going to level up and unite our country. We are going to get Brexit done and deliver the change that people voted for. And we are going to protect and invest in our amazing NHS."

(Prime Minister Boris Johnson responds to his election victory.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Second quote of the day 18th December

"Leave voters thought we were a Remain party and Remain voters thought we were a Leave party." 

"It wasn’t that we were taking the wrong position that wound most people up, they told us it was we were taking *no* position, or every position in a single day, that was driving them to distraction." 

(Peter Kyle, Labour MP, in a thread on Twitter about Labour's ambiguous position on Brexit)

First quote of the day 18th December 2019

"It is ludicrous to say we won the argument at this election – because we lost."

"If we are truly honest with ourselves, Labour simply did not put forward a credible candidate for prime minister or a believable set of priorities for governing."

"Labour’s shocking and repeated failure to tackle anti-Semitism was totally entwined with the failure of leadership. It’s been extremely difficult for me personally to see how the Jewish community has been made to feel by the Labour Party for years on end."

"We know the NHS was the number-one concern for many voters at this election, not Brexit. But trust in Labour’s ability to run the NHS, as well as other public services, collapsed. Perhaps more than anything else, losing to the Tories on the NHS is the most damning indictment of all."

(Sadiq Khan, Labour Mayor of London, excoriates Labour's failure at the 2019 election, in an interview with the i/Independent which was headlined "The Wrath of Khan.")

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

How Leave and Remain supporters voted

An interesting YouGov analysis here of how 2016 Leave and Remain supporters voted in 2017 and 2019.



The Conservatives won by holding on to 92% of their 2017 support among Leave Voters and 65% of their 2017 support among Remain voters, while gaining the support of 33% of those 2017 Labour voters who also backed Leave and 46% of 2017 Lib/Dem voters who also backed Leave.

The Lib/Dem policy of revoking Article 50 helped them picked up 22% of 2017 Conservative voters who had backed Remain but cost them 70% of their 2017 support among Leave voters and they only held on to 66% of their 2017 Remain support, with 21% going to Labour.

Labour's policy of "constructive ambiguity" turned out to be an electoral disaster as they held only 79% of their 2017 Remain support and 52% of their 2017 Leave support: there were undoubtedly other reasons besides Brexit for Labour's defeat but these figures support the theory that Labour's Brexit policy appealed strongly to neither side.

Quote of the day 17th December 2019

"Even when Blair reduced the Conservatives to their heartlands in the 1990s, the party still had heartlands. 

Labour, in 2019, doesn’t. 

It’s a collective noun for student Marxists, trades union hard-men, and spiteful anti-Semites. 

That’s not a political party: it’s a pathogen. A pathogen with nowhere to replicate."


(Graeme Archer, from his Unherd article, "Does Labour understand why it lost?")

Monday, December 16, 2019

The PM's statement on forming a new government

From a statement issued by  Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his return from seeing the Queen over the weekend.


"This morning I went to Buckingham Palace and I am forming a new Government, and on Monday MPs will arrive at Westminster to form a new Parliament, and I am proud to say that members of our new one nation Government – a people’s Government – will set out from constituencies that have never returned a Conservative MP for 100 years. 

"And yes, they will have an overwhelming mandate, from this election, to get Brexit done and we will honour that mandate by January 31. 

"And so, in this moment of national resolution I want to speak directly to those who made it possible and to all those who voted for us, for the first time, all those whose pencils may have wavered over the ballot and who heard the voices of their parents and their grandparents whispering anxiously in their ears. 

"I say thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me and we will work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities with a parliament that works for you. And then I want to speak also to those who did not vote for us or for me and who wanted and perhaps still want to remain in the EU. 

"And I want you to know that we in this one nation Conservative Government will never ignore your good and positive feelings – of warmth and sympathy towards the other nations of Europe. Because now is the moment – precisely as we leave the EU – to let those natural feelings find renewed expression in building a new partnership, which is one of the great projects for next year. 

"And as we work together with the EU as friends and sovereign equals in tackling climate change and terrorism in building academic and scientific cooperation, redoubling our trading relationship, I frankly urge everyone on either side of what, after three and a half years after all has been an increasingly arid argument, I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin. 

"Because I believe, in fact I know, because I have heard it loud and clear from every corner of the country that the overwhelming priority of the British people now is that we should focus above all on the NHS – that simple and beautiful idea that represents the best of our country with the biggest ever cash boost 50,000 more nurses, 40 new hospitals as well as providing better schools, safer streets.

"And in the next few weeks and months we will be bringing forward proposals to transform this country with better infrastructure, better education, better technology. And if you ask yourselves what is this new Government going to do, what is he going to do with his extraordinary majority, I will tell you that is what we are going to do; we are going to unite and level up – unite and level up, bringing together the whole of this incredible United Kingdom England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland together – taking us forward unleashing the potential of the whole country delivering opportunity across the entire nation. 

"And since I know that after five weeks frankly of electioneering, this country deserves a break from wrangling, a break from politics, and a permanent break from talking about Brexit. I want everyone to go about their Christmas preparations happy and secure in the knowledge that here in this people’s Government the work is now being stepped up to make 2020 a year of prosperity and growth and hope and to deliver a Parliament that works for the people. 

"Thank you all very much and happy Christmas."

The new Conservative government gets to work

With Parliament returning this week we will immediately start repaying the trust given to us and deliver on the people’s priorities.
  • During Thursday’s Queen’s Speech, we will start repaying that trust placed in us and delivering on people’s priorities. That means strengthening the justice system, providing a better service to commuters, giving better protection for renters, and stopping local authorities boycotting products from other countries, like Israel.
     
  • And, the Prime Minister will fulfil his election pledge to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement bill before Christmas.
On our NHS, the Queen’s Speech will go even further, and the Prime Minister will enshrine in law the multi-year financial commitment to the NHS - a first for any government.
  • The NHS was a totemic issue during the election - with Boris Johnson committing the largest ever funding settlement for the NHS, an increase in doctors and nurses, 40 new hospitals and nursing bursaries to support students.
     
  • The Prime Minister will bring forward legislation to enshrine in law a multi-year funding settlement for the NHS that will see a £33.9 billion per annum increase in the NHS budget by 2023-24.

Why the Conservatives won

It is often said that "Oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them."

Although Boris Johnson certainly called certain things right - in particular the slogan "Get Brexit Done" clearly cut through - last week's election is one which the above saying really does not describe: this, like 1983, was an election which the opposition lost.

After nine years in government taking difficult decisions I suspect that the Conservatives might have had real difficulty getting re-elected if we had faced a remotely competent opposition.

Instead we had a principal opposition party with the strategic judgement of a demented wombat and a leader for whom any comparison with the late Michael Foot is quite literally a gross injustice to Michael Foot.

Here are three views on why the Conservatives won:

Dan Hodges (a former Trade Union and Labour party official) wrote in the Mail that

"The Corbynites lost because they hate working Britain - and the feeling is reciprocated."


Greg Hall wrote on "The Article" site that

"Labour isn't Workington,"

(For those whose memories do not stretch back to 1979, this is a pun on a slogan which Saatchi and Saatchi devised for Mrs Thatcher in that year's election, "Labour isn't Working.")


Graeme Archer asked on the UnHerd site, not why Labour lost, but the next question:

"Does Labour understand why it lost?"


And, you know what? It's a very good question.

The argument is over and Leave has won.

I spent a lot of time agonising which way to vote in the EU referendum and eventually voted Remain. But I accepted that Britain would and must leave the European Union early on the morning of 24th June 2016, at about the time it became mathematically certain that Leave had won.

A disappointingly large number of very clever people have spent the last three and a half years trying to frustrate that result.

Some of them convinced themselves that Leave voters were thick xenophobic racists who didn't understand what they were voting for.

Others convinced themselves that the result was fraudulent and pushed ever more elaborate conspiracy theories about how the referendum had been stolen by Leave overspending, Russian money or bots, Cambridge Analytica, or lies on the side of a bus.

The fact that none of these things, insofar as there was any truth in them, were either likely to have changed the result nor were unique to Leave - there were campaigners on the Remain side was also proved to have overspent, and the Remain campaign also put out untrue or highly misleading statements - did not shift their opinion.

The Liberal Democrats openly opposed the referendum result - which seemed all along a strange thing for a party with "Democrats" in their name to do. When this took the form of a campaign for another referendum it came over as "people didn't know what they were voting for" which was arrogant enough. The decision to toughen this stance further and promise to simply revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit had the Lib/Dems won the election will go down in history as possibly the worst ever strategic mistake from a party which has made some pretty bad ones in the past decade. 

There is little doubt in my mind that if the former Lib/Dem leader Jo Swinson had stuck to the "people's vote" strategy, though I personally can and do disagree with it, she would still be in parliament and leader of a rather larger parliamentary party. But telling 17.4 million Leave voters that the Lib/Dems were determined to completely disregard their votes was a step too far even for many Remain supporters.

The Lib/Dems were, however, honest by comparison with the tiny minority of former Conservative MPs and large majority of Labour ones who were elected in 2017 on manifesto commitments to honour the referendum result and then spent the following two and a half years trying every trick in the book to frustrate that result.

I accept that these people thought that they were doing what was right for the country so I will refrain from making any personally vindictive comments about them, but I think they were absolutely wrong to break their election promises and attempt to block what the electorate had voted for.

The electorate clearly takes the same view and many of those MPs who attempted to stop Brexit or water it down to what one of them called "Common Market 2.0" have paid a heavy price for it: those former Conservative MPs who were not prepared to accept the Boris deal are no longer MPs.

Every defector who left one of the major parties on the basis of supporting remain, whether they stood as any variety of Independent or as a Lib/Dem, is no longer an MP.

Labour's candidates in the fifty seats which they lost, most of whom had taken part in the attempt to frustrate Brexit but including one or two like Caroline Flint who had honourably kept their election promises to implement the referendum result, paid the price for their party's equivocation.

As Douglas Murray wrote on the Unherd site here, anyone who is not completely determined to live in the past needs to recognise that the battle is over, Leave has won, and it's time to move on.


The 2019 election gives Boris Johnson a clear mandate to take Britain out of the EU on the terms of his deal, and that will now happen. It is clear that the election slogan "Get Brexit Done" struck a chord with a very significant part of the electorate and that promise has to be honoured.

The reaction of most businesses and millions of people, probably a majority, will be relief that we now know where Britain stands. We are leaving the EU, period. Leave has won and Remain has lost.

A pity it has taken three and a half years to reach certainty on what should have been clear, and was clear to many of us, on 24th June 2016.

Quote of the day 16th December 2019

"England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. 

"It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box."

(George Orwell)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Quote of the day 14th December 2019

"Jews have become the victims of today’s degraded form of radicalism. They are seen by many of today’s self-identified radicals as part of a conspiracy to control the world, with international bankers playing a particularly prominent role. They are alleged to be at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of privilege, with the bulk of the world’s population suffering beneath them. And they are attacked for supporting a uniquely malevolent nation state in a world in which nations are increasingly seen as problematic.

"Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party goes way beyond a few errant individual matters."

"However, there is one important point on which the defenders of the Labour Party are right. Anti-Semitism should not be singled out as a purely Labour phenomenon. Self-proclaimed radicals outside the Labour Party, like those within it, often share a similar worldview. These can include leftists who do not support Labour, as well as some of those who define themselves as greens."

"Anti-Semitism is a complex form of discrimination which can, in principle, exist in different sections of society. However, a terrible paradox of contemporary society is that those who consider themselves the most radical are often most prone to anti-Semitism. It is a tragedy that the radicalism of fools is gaining ground."

(Daniel Ben-Ami, extracts from an article in Spiked called "The radicalism of Fools" about the threat of Anti-Semitism.)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Quote of the day 13th December 2019

"Actually my next plan is to go and have a cup of tea."

(Caroline Flint, Labour MP for the Don Valley 1997 to 2019)

Every election some departing former MP who has just lost their job manages to take their defeat with such dignified grace and humility or come up with some witty response which reminds all but the most sectarian of their opponents, who might otherwise have been tempted to gloat, that even politicians whose political views you don't agree with are human too.

This year it was Caroline Flint whose Don Valley seat, which she had represented for 22 years, had just elected its first ever Conservative MP. She was asked what her plans were now and gave a quintessentially British response.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

POLLS ARE OPEN FOR FOUR MORE HOURS

Polls are open until 10pm this evening - four hours to go at the moment this post was published at 6pm.

This could be one of the most important general elections in British history,

A Conservative majority government will:
  • Get Brexit done
  • Ensure there are 50,000 more nurses than there would otherwise have been and put record investment into the NHS
  • Recruit 20,000 more police and gie the courts power to impose tougher sentences
  • Invest in education, technology, and infrastructure to drive opportunity and prosperity
  • Keep the UK  economy strong and debt low
  • Take back control of immigration with an Australian-style points system

POLLS ARE OPEN FOR TEN MORE HOURS

Polls remain open until 10pm this evening in what could be one of the most pivotal elections in British history,

POLLING DAY

Polls are now open in the general election and will remain open until 10pm this evening.

If you have a postal vote and have not yet returned it you can hand it in at a polling station in the constituency.

Every vote could count: however you vote, make sure you vote.

Quote of the day 12th December 2019


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A reminder of elections past

Since Labour is again fighting an election based on scaremongering about the NHS, here is a reminder that less than three years ago they did the same thing in Copeland.

And it's been long enough to give a useful case study of the accuracy - or lack olf it - of Labour's claims.

Here is a cross reference of what Labour said about health during the Copeland  by-election cross checked against reality.


ONE DAY TO GO

Tomorrow is polling day

After all the weeks of campaigning, it is finally time for the voters to have your say.

The only poll which counts is the one which takes place tomorrow.

However you vote, make sure you are part of that decision.

Quote of the day 11th December 2019


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Music to relax after campaiging: "Dies Irae" from the Mozart.Requiem

TWO DAYS TO GO

There are now only two days to go until the election. 

Key points you need to remember:

This election is happening because a gridlocked and broken Parliament refused to respect the referendum result – or let the government govern.

The choice is between a majority government that can act or another paralysed hung Parliament that cannot.

A Conservative majority government will: 
  • Get Brexit done 
  • Ensure there are 50,000 more nurses than there would be with no action and put record investment in the NHS 
  • Recruit 20,000 more police and ensure the courts have the power to pass tougher sentences 
  • Invest in education, technology, and infrastructure to drive opportunity and prosperity 
  • Keep the UK economy strong and debt low 
  • Take back control of immigration with an Australian-style points system 


Quote of the day 10th December 2019


Monday, December 09, 2019

Irony of the election

I wrote an article about the prospects of the two major parties as we entered the final few days of the campaign which was published on Conservative Home at the weekend. You can read it here.

The title referred to the a possibility of a hung parliament in which Labour and the SNP are able to form a government, which I argued was still a real danger.

A tweet from ConHome advertising the article was enthusiastically welcomed by Corbynistas and Cybernats who did not appear to have read it.

If they actually had read it, they would have known that it was a warning against overconfidence and complacency, and about self-defeating expectations. Hence that by tweeting things like "a Labour government is coming" they wre enthusiastically flinging themselves into the same elephant trap which I had been warning Tories about!

The last words of the article are as follows:

"I want to end on a positive note. The nightmare of a hung parliament run by Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP is still a real possibility. But so is a Conservative majority. We have absolutely everything to play for."

THREE DAYS TO GO

In the last three days before polling day, the Prime Minister is visiting every region in England and Wales. His tour will include visits to North Wales, West Yorkshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire, East Anglia and the South West. 

Today, Boris has been in Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East, highlighting that the only way to get Brexit done is to elect a Conservative majority government.

In Leave-voting Sunderland, he set out the choice that the voters are facing this week: Either we will have another hung parliament, with Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon conspiring to frustrate Brexit again.

They’d waste next year on two referendums on Brexit and Scottish independence. Westminster and the country would be stuck in neutral, would be mired in more dither, delay and gridlock, unable to move forward.

Alternatively, we can have a Conservative majority government. Every single Conservative candidate – in Sunderland, the North East and across the whole UK – has pledged to back the Prime Minister's deal. That means a Conservative majority in parliament will vote for our Brexit deal and we can finally end the uncertainty and get Brexit done.

YOUR VOTE in YOUR SEAT will decide. If you want a working majority government that will end the uncertainty then vote Conservative on Thursday.

Quote of the day 9th December 2019


Sunday, December 08, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: "Rejoice greatly" from Handel's Messiah

A busy weekend's campaigning.

My wife and I have been round various parts of the North West the last two days:
Saturday morning delivering pledge letters
 - for Simon Fell, Conservative candidate for Barrow and Furness: 

Saturday afternoon delivering pledge letters 
 - for Jake Berry, Conservative candidate for Rossendale  and Darwen:

Saturday evening stuffing envelopes with the Copeland Conservative team
 - for Trudy Harrison, Conservative candidate for Copeland

And today delivering pledge letters for Trudy in Keswick

I can report that the campaign teams in all those places are active, working hard, and in good heart.
And here is a little music to relax to after all that hard work.


FOUR DAYS TO GO

With just four days to go to the general election, remember:

  • This election is happening because a gridlocked and paralysed hung parliament was unable to decide anything about Brexit other than what it didn't want to do. 
  • For three years parliament has failed to deliver what the British people voted for in the referendum. 

The choice on 12th December  is between a majority government that can act or another paralysed hung Parliament that cannot.

A Conservative majority government will:
  • Get Brexit done 
  • Ensure there are 50,000 more nurses than there would be if nothing is done, and put record investment into the NHS 
  • Recruit 20,000 more police and ensure tougher sentences 
  • Invest in education, technology, and infrastructure to drive opportunity and prosperity 
  • Keep the economy strong and debt low 
  • Take back control of immigration with an Australian-style points system

Quote of the day 8th December 2019


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: Gluck, "Dance of the Furies"

FIVE DAYS TO GO

Five days to Thursday 12th December 2019, when Britain holds what may be one of the most pivotal  General Elections in our lifetimes.

Polls will be open from 7am until 10pm. If you have a postal vote you can put it in the post or hand it in to your local council: for example Copeland electors with a postal vote can put it into the ballot box at the Market Hall in Whitehaven.

However, you vote, make sure you use your vote. You cannot say you don't have a real choice at this election.

Vote Conservative to leave the EU, with a deal, by 31st January

Vote Lib/Dem to cancel Brexit and stay in the EU

Vote Labour if you want to spend more months if not years arguing about it and have two more referendums.