Showing posts from January, 2019

Government to recruit 20,000 new staff to support GPs

The government has announced that an extra 20,000 new staff will be recruited to support the work of GPs. The Prime Minister tweeted: "GPs are the cornerstone of the NHS. This new five-year deal means they can plan for the future with confidence to help deliver the benefits for patients set out in our #NHSLongTermPlan"

Social Media and protecting the Vulnerable

The Health Secretary has written to social media companies demanding that they take action to protect children and young people from harmful content online. Key facts : Following the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017, her parents have raised concerns about the role of social media in her death. Lots of parents feel powerless in the face of social media. But we are not powerless – both Government and social media providers have a duty to act.  Providers have already taken some important steps to remove harmful content, but more action is urgently needed. It is appalling how easy it still is to access this content online – it is time for internet and social media providers to step up and purge this content once and for all.  We are developing a Government-wide White Paper to address all online harms, which will be consulted upon soon. We want to work with internet and social media providers to ensure the action is as effective as possible, but will introduce new legisl

On the life of a local government reporter

"Cumbria Journo" Ellis Butcher has an amusing (and largely accurate) piece on the "Hold the Front Page" site about the life of a local government reporter which you can read here . The comments section is full of posts from retired journalists asking what's new. I think most of them missed the bit about WiFi - and actually, one thing which is new is that you can now get decent WiFi in many Cumbria County Council buildings including County Hall, which was not the case when I was elected to CCC in May 2017. Reading the piece reminds me of what eventually happened to one of the journalists who used to cover the first council I was elected to back in my twenties. As he reached retiring age he got fed up sitting on the sidelines and approached us about standing for the council himself - and was duly adopted and elected. You never know what may lie in your future, Ellis! See you at the next Full Council.

Quote of the day 31st January 2019

"Those who condemn the immorality of liberal capitalism do so in comparison with a society of saints that has never existed - and never will." ( Martin Wolf , "Why Globalization works")

Time for Fiona Onasanya to resign

It's often said that it's not the mistake that gets you, it's the cover-up. This is certainly true in the cases of both former Lib/Dem Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his former wife, who were sent to jail for eight months after lying about who was behind the wheel of a vehicle caught speeding, and the MP for Peterborough, Fiona Onasanya, who has been given a three-month sentence for what appears on the face of it to be an almost identical offence. (Her brother was given an eight-month sentence in relation to the same incident.) All were convicted of perverting the course of justice which was, quite rightly in my opinion, seen as more serious than the original offence. Let's be brutally honest here. We shouldn't do it, and it is right that there are legal penalties and other mechanisms in place to stop us doing it, but just about everyone who regularly drives will at least sometimes have gone too fast. Sometimes the risk that this creates will be nominal, som

Wednesday music spot: Overture from Rossini's William Tell


Switching Energy suppliers

A record number of people switched their energy supplier in 2018, making their bills cheaper .  · Thanks to the actions of the Conservative-led coalition government to open the market, there are now five times as many energy suppliers as there were in 2010, giving consumers more choice and allowing them to shop around for a better deal. We are correcting Labour’s mistakes where people were stuck paying more with providers that didn’t work for them.  · We are delivering on our commitment to make sure the energy market works for everyone, helping people with the cost of living.  Recent statistics : 2018 was a record year for switching energy provider, meaning more people benefited from a better deal. Over 5.8 million, or one in five, customers made a change (Energy UK, 21 January 2019).  In December alone, nearly half a million customers switched supplier, giving people more choice to shop around for a better deal, helping people with the cost of living. In December 2018, 464,

Quote of the day 30th January 2019

Hat-tip to Hilary Reid and "Blogswallop" on Facebook. Just sums up this month …

The Business Basics Fund

15 projects from around the UK have won a share of the £2 million Business Basics Fund – part of our modern Industrial Strategy to support small businesses and boost their profitability. Key facts : The first round of funding from the Business Basics Fund will help businesses make better use of technology and modern management practices to save them time and make them more efficient.  Technology projects and pilots across the country – including digital dairy farming, artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots and cloud computing technology – are among those to benefit from the new fund.  From this week small firms, academia and local authorities can now apply for a share of the next £2 million wave of funding to help them become more profitable.  Why this matters : Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we are supporting them with new investments to boost their productivity and ensure they can continue to thrive in the fut

Recruitment and Retention of teachers

The Education Secretary has published a new integrated Recruitment and Retention strategy to boost teacher numbers and make sure that teaching remains an attractive and rewarding profession. Key facts : The Government has set out a number of measures to give teachers more early career support, reduce teacher workload and extend opportunities for flexible working which include:  Simplifying the process of applying to become a teacher and reforming the bursary system to include retention-based payments so that more teachers can be encouraged to stay where they are.  The creation of the Early Career Framework, a new two year package of training and support for teachers at the beginning of their career, backed by £130 million year.  Helping schools to reduce teacher workload, by stripping away time consuming and unnecessary tasks like data entry, as well as simplifying accountability system to clarify when a school maybe subject to intervention.   Why this matters : There are

Quote of the day 29th January 2018


As the brexit crunch nears ...

It is not surprising that, as the date gets closer and closer when, unless parliament has agreed a Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, article 50 will cause Britain to crash out without a deal, MPs who see that as a highly undesirable outcome are trying all sorts of measures to try to avoid it. Whether you call it "no deal" or "World Trade Organisation" Brexit, this option was not seriously put forward as their preferred option by either of the main leave campaigns during the referendum, and to claim that there is any kind of mandate from the referendum which MPs who seek a softer form of Brexit are somehow betraying is utter insanity. If Leave campaigners had wanted a mandate not just for Brexit but for some particular form or Brexit they should have sought one instead of deliberately leaving the type of Brexit they wanted as vague as possible. Hence I regard the attempts being made in some quarters to deselect MPs like Nick Boles for supporting parti

Quote of the day 28th January 2019

"Passions are at boiling point and we face a moment of immense national challenge. But that is no justification for running roughshod over the conventions by which Parliament operates and throwing away a delicate balance that has only been established after hundreds of years of painstaking and sometimes violent evolution. All my MP colleagues, from every part of the House and every side of the Brexit debate, should draw back from committing an act of constitutional vandalism which we would all live to regret." ( Robert Courts MP , in a telegraph article on the Cooper-Adonis amendment which seeks to delay Brexit unless parliament agrees a Withdrawal Agreement deal by 26trh February. You can read his full article here .)

Sunday music spot: "Adoramus te" by Libera


Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, Holocaust Memorial Day 2019,  is the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is a day when we remember the victims of the genocides of history, from the Shoah in which the Nazis and their allies murdered six million Jews and millions of other people who fell into one of the classes of people they refused to accept as human, to all the other instances where the attempt has been made to use mass murder to eliminate a problem. Under the theme " Torn from home ," we reflect today on what happens when individuals, families and communities are driven out of, or wrenched from their homes, because of persecution or the threat of genocide, alongside the continuing difficulties survivors face as they try to find and build new homes when the genocide is over. Today we also mark the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda, which began in April 1994 and the 40th anniversary of the end of the Genocide in Cambodia. I make no apology for repeating the final line

Quote of the day for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019


When Triumph can be Disaster

Interesting piece by Alistair Meeks on the Political Betting blog about how historically what appears to be a triumph of negotiation can have disastrous consequences if it is not sustainable. You can read his article here . He's undoubtedly right that history shows this to be possible. I'm not sure he's right to apply it to the current Brexit deal, but I suppose we may find out pretty soon.

Second quote of the day 26th January 2019

"I respect the Remainers. But they have to see the danger of the argument they are prosecuting. Sensible people are now openly debating on a daily basis whether we are duty bound to respect the democratic verdict of the people as expressed via the ballot box."  ( Dan Hodges on twitter)

Saturday music spot: "YMCA" (Village people music video 1978)


A busy weekend ...

There is an extraordinary amount happening in Copeland this weekend Royal Navy visit to Whitehaven The Patrol ship HMS Biter will be visiting the harbour this morning from 10am Blood Bike Handover At Cleator Moor Civic Hall at 2pm today another Blood Bike will be handed over to the local National Association of Blook Bikes service by Cumberland and Westmorland Freemasons. Millom v. Serbia Red Star Belgrade are aiming to make their mark in rugby league's most famous knock-out trophy. The Serbian sporting club will play in the Challenge Cup for the first time on Sunday, when they will travel to Millom, the West Cumbrian club which is believed to be the oldest amateur side in the world. Holocaust Memorial Day On a sadder note, Sunday will also be commemorated in Copeland and around the world as Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the victims of the Shoah and all other genocides.

Quote of the day 26th January 2019


Five tropes about Brexit which it is time to retire.

There are five Brexit-related insults which are used too frequently in some form or other against politicians or voters whose position on Brexit the person making the argument disagrees with that it is fairly unusual for a debate or discussion about the subject to take place without at least one of these accusations being deployed. All five of them are true occasionally. However, in my humble opinion, all five of these tropes are wrong and unfair most of the time, and more to the point, all of them reflect an unwillingness to accept that intelligent and honest people can disagree with the person deploying the argument. It is this refusal to accept the existence of honest disagreement which has made the Brexit debate so divisive, angry, and difficult to resolve. As the American economist Thomas Sowell wrote, It's high time to stop using all five of these lazy excuses for ignoring people whose views are not identical to yours. 1) It's time to stop calling Remain s

Nine weeks to go ...

Nine weeks from today, unless Article 50 is withdrawn by the UK or extended by unanimous agreement of all EU member states, Britain leaves the EU. It is worth adding that, unless parliament passes a withdrawal agreement which is also acceptable to the EU, we automatically leave with no deal. I agree with the Leave voter quoted by Sir Ivan Rogers who referred to crashing out without a deal as the “I have no solutions and can’t be arsed to think” option. I accept - and said at the time of the referendum - that a lot of the things said by both sides were wildly exaggerated scaremongering and some of the warnings made by the Remain side were crying wolf. Unfortunately there IS a wolf - and it we have an unplanned "No Deal" Brexit the resulting disruption will have a significant cost in lost jobs and disrupted services. The difficulty is that avoiding the default option of leaving without a deal is what Stephen Bush, writing in the New Statesman here , refers to as &quo

Friday musc spot: Dance of the Furies from Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice


Quote of the day 25th January 2019

"Of course, every generation faces fresh challenges and opportunities." "As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture." "To me, these approaches are timeless, and I commend them to everyone." ( H.M. The Queen , in an address to to members of the Women's Institute (WI) near the Sandringham estate. The Queen's words were widely interpreted as an appeal to overcome bitter divisions about Brexit.)

Thursday music spot: "O thou the central orb" (Charles Wood)


Have scientisits discovered the cause of Alzheimers disease?

Very interesting piece in the New Scientist here - early evidence suggests that apparently Porphyromonas gingivalis , the key bacteria in chronic gum disease, may also be the main culprit in the development of Alzheimers. Early days yet and work going on to further investigate. The bad news is that gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published today shows it might stop and possibly even reverse Alzheimer’s. There could also be a vaccine. One other obvious lesson from this. If there's even a strong possibility that the scientists who are suggesting this are right, and if you don't want to lose your marbles as you get older, that's an additional reason to do something which makes sense anyway, e.g. make every effort to be vigilant about oral hygiene issues like cleaning and flossing your teeth.

A "Must read" brexit piece

The former British ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, delivered a lecture at UCL's European Institute this week which is available on the Spectator website here and which I really think everyone with a serious interest in the issue of what Britain should do about Brexit ought to read. He is severely critical of a lot muddled thinking on all sides of the debate, from hardline remainers to supporters of a "WTO" or "no deal" Brexit, although Jim King may be interested to know that one of the comparatively few nuggets of praise which fell from his lips was describing the Leave Alliance's Flexcit plan as follows: "the most thoughtful sceptic attempts to map an exit route – embodied, I think, in a lengthy tome called Flexcit, which is a genuine, serious attempt at least to grapple with what insider experts knew were inordinately complex issues." He explains why the EU does not take the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal seriously, b


I was probably one of very few students of my generation who managed to go through five years at University (three years doing a first degree, a year as sabbatical treasurer of the student union, and a one-year taught Masters) without ever being offered drugs. Part of the reason for this is that as a first year student I was given a debating assignment to speak against a motion calling for the legalisation of cannabis. At that time the prevailing attitude to cannabis among students was that nobody should be worried about the consequences of using it because drugs based on this plant were, quote, "no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco." But that's a rather oversimplified line isn't it? After all, both alcohol and tobacco can kill. In fact the cannabis plant is chemically very complex indeed. It contains over a hundred substances of which there is evidence that some have genuine medical benefits when properly used. For that reason I have been very sympathetic

Quote of the day 24th January 2019

"I thought the horror of the Shoah would mean no more antisemitism. I was wrong." (Countdown star Rachel Riley , who made a moving and passionate speech to a Holocaust Education Trust reception in Westminster, which you can read in full at the Jewish Chronicle here under this headline.)

Cumbria Day

Trudy Harrison MP and the other MPs representing Cumbria co-hosted the fourth annual ‘Cumbria Day’ in the Palace of Westminster this afternoon. Showcasing the very best of Cumbrian produce and ingenuity in the heart of London, exhibitors from across the county were invited to showcase their work and produce, while networking and meeting their Members of Parliament, each of whom had invited two businesses to the event. For example. this year Rory Stewart selected the Appleby Creamery and Original Marquees to represent the businesses of Penrith and The Border. Turnout was extremely high, with MPs, Lords, civil servants and Parliamentary staffers all attending, to sample Cumbrian produce and to learn more about the county’s economy. All six Cumbrian MPs all attended, as did senior members of the Government, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, and Speaker John Bercow. For more details see the Cumbria Crack report on the event here .

Michael O'Hara RIP

My father-in-law, Michael O'Hara, died this afternoon in Luton and Dunstable hospital after a short illness. It had been his 90th birthday on Monday. He was the last of nine brothers and sisters. He had a long life well-lived, and was lucid and active almost to the very end. He will be much missed by his four children, five grandchildren, and three great-grand-children. Born and raised on a farm in the west of Ireland, Michael came to England shortly after World War II and his first job at the age of 16 was clearing the barbed wire which had been laid on the beaches of southern England during the war as a precaution against any potential German landings. He worked all over the country after that, latterly at the Vauxhall plant in Luton where he met his wife Margaret. He was a true original, the sort of person of whom it is often said "they broke the mould" when they made him: he was also one of the kindest and most honest men I ever had the privilege to meet. Rest

MIdweek music spot: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata


Help to save

The government is making it easier for working people on lower incomes to save up for a rainy day by giving them a 50p bonus for every £1 they save. Key facts : The ‘Help to Save’ account is available online to working people on Tax Credits and Universal Credit and can be managed on an easy to use app which lets savers set goals and personal reminders.  Over 80,000 people have signed up so far, helping those on low incomes put money aside for the future.  If someone saved a maximum £2,400 over a 4 year period, they would receive a bonus of £1,200 – a massive 50 per cent boost from the government.  Why this matters : Whether you are saving for a family break, putting money away for a rainy day, or even saving for next Christmas, Help to Save is designed to make saving as simple as possible.

Quote of the day Wednesday 23rd January 2019


Tuesday music spot: Finale to "Les Indes galantes" by Rameau


Government deficit continues to fall

New data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that the UK Budget deficit continues to fall, meaning we have more money to spend on our vital public services like the NHS. The general government deficit in 2017-18 was £42.9 billion – a decrease of £4.1 billion compared with the previous year.  The Conservatives balanced approach to the economy means that, since 2010, we have reduced our deficit by four-fifths and our debt is starting to fall, so that we can spend more money on public services.

Quote of the day Tuesday 22nd January 2019


Monday madrigal: John Dowland's "Come again, sweet love doth now invite"


Government publishes Domestic Abuse bill

Today, the Government published a ground-breaking domestic abuse bill to support victims and their families and pursue offenders. Key facts : The Government is introducing a series of measures to promote domestic abuse awareness, support victims, tackle perpetrators and improve services, after it was revealed that domestic abuse affects 6 per cent of all adults and cost England and Wales £66 billion between 2016 and 2017. We’ve made a total of 120 commitments to tackle this horrific crime, including the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and recognise the impact of controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.  Non-legislative actions will see further support for children affected by domestic abuse as well as elderly, disabled, male and migrant victims and those in the LGBTQ community.  We are barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts and giving courts greater powers, including new protectio

Statistics watchdog calls out "Schools Cuts" website

Last week, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Trade Union-backed campaign 'School Cuts' to rebuke their misleading use of statistics.   ·          We welcome the UK Statistics Authority’s letter to the ‘School Cuts’ campaign, which makes clear the group’s use of statistics ‘creates a worse picture’ and gives a ‘misleading impression to parents over how much money their local school receives’.   ·         The 'School cuts" campaign should remove the discredited and misleading figures which the statistics authority has challenged from their website.  Conservatives will always be committed to delivering a world-class education for every child.

Quote of the day 21st January 2019

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from AD161 to AD180 and was the last of the line of rulers known as the "Five good emperors." It is interesting how many of the comments in his "Meditations" and other quotes attributed to him, such as this one, seem highly relevant today.

When politics makes us irrational

I have been reading a very powerful article on the Unherd site by Tom Chivers called " How politics makes us irrational ." It refers to two studies which are about to be published and which find that people with strong ideological beliefs - whether left or right - find it harder to spot errors of logic an arguments supporting their beliefs. It is important to distinguish here between errors in your premises and errors in logic. Chivers starts by quoting an example of a syllogism which starts with a false premise and argues with perfect logic through to a false conclusion. Consider the following: “All things made of plants are healthy. Cigarettes are made of plants. Therefore, cigarettes are healthy.” The conclusion is wrong because the major premise is wrong: plenty of things which can be made from or obtained from plants - deadly nightshade, and cyanide to give two examples - are not healthy. Tobacco is an example. The actual syllogism is perfectly logical and

Six unknown Holocaust victims laid to rest

Today, a week before Holocaust memorial day, six unknown victims of the Nazi holocaust were laid to rest before a congregation of a thousands people at a ceremony conducted by Britain's Chief Rabbi in Bushey, Hertfordshire. The identities of the individuals concerned are not known beyond that they are believed to have been Jewish and that they were five adults and one child who died at Auschwitz. Their mortal remains were given to the Imperial War Museum as part of a large anonymous donation of artifacts relating to the Holocaust.  The unknown victims were buried with earth from Israel. James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, who attended the ceremony, said  "We must continue to challenge racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry and where hatred can lead."  The minister added that he hoped the funeral would bring people together and underline the message of " never again, never forget and that none of us can simply stand by the side and allow this to happ

Sunday music spot: Finale to Act 1 of "The Barber of Seville"

This is the conclusion to Act one of Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville" Just before this sequence it has been revealed who the main protagonists in the play actually are. There is another round of revelations left for the next play in Pierre Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy, "The Marriage of Figaro," but the characters have just heard quite enough to leave them reeling in shock and questioning their sanity. The lyrics of the chorus which ends the act, often performed while dashing round the stage as though in the grip of complete hysteria, can be translated into English as follows: "My head seems to be in a fiery smithy, the sound of the anvils, ceaseless and growing. deafens the ear. Up and down, high and low, striking heavily, the hammer makes the very walls resound with a barbarous harmony. Thus our poor, bewildered brain, stunned, confounded, in confusion, without reason, is reduced to insanity."  Seemed rather appropriate music

Quote of the day 20th January 2019


Claiming a retrospective mandate

When you find points of agreement among both Brexit supporting and pro-remain columnists it often turns out that they are saying something insightful. This week both a prominent Brexit supporting writer, Iain Martin, and a prominent Remain one, (Lord) Danny Finkelstein, wrote powerful pieces about how much more hardline views about Brexit have been getting. Finkelstein referred in The Times to the psychological concept of "Group polarisation" when people discuss politics primarily with other people who think as they do and are driven to ever more robust positions. I think they are on to something, and they are calling out a process which is incredibly unhelpful. One of the thigs which has made the Brexit process so divisive and so hard to resolve is that many people on all sides have been taking increasingly hard-line positions. Before about 2015 it was comparatively rare to find a senior Conservative who spoke openly of outright support for leaving the EU. Until that r

Satuday music spot: "Only You" (Voces8 version)


Windsor Davies

Windsor Davies, a brilliant actor who appeared in many TV shows and films, died on Thursday at the age of 88. He is best remembered for his role as Battery Sergeant Major Williams from the comedy show " It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. " I imagine that few people who watched the show will ever forget the way he could dismiss a complaint or concern with the words, delivered in an ironic tone, " Oh dear; what a shame; never mind. " Davies was born in London to Welsh parents who returned to Wales at the start of WW2. He worked as a coal miner and as a schoolteacher before becoming an actor. Apart from "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" his other TV and film parts included the comedy series "Never the Twain," two "Carry on" films, Doctor Who (in the episode "Evil of the Daleks,") Gormenghast, and he was the voice of Sergeant Major Zero in "Terrahawks." He survived Eluned, his wife of 52 years, by four months. They had five c

Quote of the day 19th January 2019

"Not every cage is a prison: not every loss is eternal." (Line from the first episode of season two of "Star Trek Discovery" which was released on Netflix yesterday.)

Massive response to A595 consultation

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison organised a very constructive meeting today with Highways England and local county council officers and councillors about the A595. Issues covered included the proposal for a Whitehaven Relief Road and the fact that repairs to what is currently the A595 will be necessary to deal with subsidence under the Moresby Viaduct. Responses are still being analysed but one piece of information released today to the public domain is that there was a massive response to the consultation in late 2018 on the A595 in the Whitehaven area. There were 850 responses which represents a very high response to a consultation of this kind. Well done to everyone who took part.

UK inflation falls to 2.1% on latest CPI figures.

Figures released this week by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the  UK inflation rate fell to 2.1% in December, from 2.3% the previous month. Inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) was the lowest in nearly two years, The main downward driver on inflation was a fall in the price of petrol. The figure is close to the Bank of England's target of 2% and probably makes any increase in interest rates in the near future less likely. Average UK pay growth is now higher than inflation, suggesting a modest rise in real incomes, with the most recent available figures showing that wages excluding bonuses were up by 3.3% for the three months to October 2018.