Thursday, February 28, 2019

The latest free speech row ...

I do not believe in absolute free speech, but I do believe in free speech within the law and that the law should be written in such a way as to allow as much free speech as is reasonably practical.

And free speech doesn't mean anything at all unless it includes the freedom to say things that some people will very strongly dislike. As John Stuart Mill put it,

Of course, words are sometimes used to do more than express an opinion, and where they an do great harm that is a horse of quite a different colour. Incitement to criminal behaviour is always wrong and does not come under the heading of free Speech within the law.

Hence it isn't an attack on free speech within the law to stop people from saying things which can reasonably be interpreted as encouraging others to attack or harm any group of people.

Such behaviour, alongside threats of violence and other clearly abusive comments can be and often is, prevented.

Unfortunately it is not always easy to draw the line between abusive statements and those which are merely criticism and we have seen again and again over the past few years that some people will use rules designed to prevent incitement to violence to try to censor views that they merely strongly disagree with.

People should have the right not to be murdered, physically attacked, discriminated against or threatened, and being threatened includes being subjected to language so hostile that a reasonable person could find it threatening. But nobody should have the right not to be offended.

I don't say this because I think being offensive is a good idea. I say it because, given how easy it is to offend some human beings, it is impossible to argue that everyone has the right not to be offended without effectively abandoning any meaningful commitment to freedom of speech.

I have very little time for the former Deputy Leader of UKIP, Suzanne Evans and, as I did not hear or see the BBC Newsnight broadcast that she has just been suspended from twitter for referring to, have no wish either to endorse or disagree with her comments.

However, if Guido Fawkes is right that Evans has been suspended from twitter because of a tweet in which she suggested that a trans woman had not been 'ladylike' on that programme this would appear on the face of it to be a classic example of the sort of overzealous reaction which fails to distinguish between criticism and abuse.

I have tweeted that

"I have no time for Suzanne Evans but the word "Unladylike" should be within the limits of reasonable free speech whatever combination of X and Y chromosomes the person it is applied to has and however they self-identify."

It will be interesting to see if I get into trouble for that.

It should be possible to disagree with the absolute sewer of abuse that gets thrown at many people in politics at the moment, particularly women and members of ethnic minorities, without supporting the censorship of mild or even fairly robust criticism.

Another quote on free speech, this one much more recent from the journalist Nick Cohen:

Cancer care in North, West and East Cumbrai

The Health Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday received a very important report and presentation on cancer care in the Northern part of the county (including West and East Cumbria.)

You can read the report here.

The report included

1) Details of the current issues around health outcomes for those who suffer from cancer in the northern two-thirds of Cumbria

2) Information on the alarming levels of health inequalities - people in parts of the county have much better chances of surviving cancer for longer and with less devastating consequences.

3) A large part of this is due to issues of lifestyle and also to how quickly people go to their doctor when they have a problem - one of the causes of differential outcomes is that people in the areas with better survival rates tend to present at an earlier stage of the onset of the disease when there is more chance of doing something about it. Similarly, some is due to higher take-up of screening programmes.

4) The report discussed some of the measures being taken to improve take-up of cancer screening. It cannot be stressed too strongly, if you are offered a cancer test, it may save your life to take it up.

5) The report also discussed the new cancer centre at Carlisle. This very welcome new facility is not being provided at the expense of cancer services in the West of the county and we discussed at the meeting how cancer services in the West are being improved too.

Quote of the day 28th Februry 2019

"The UK is deeply concerned about the rising tensions between India and Pakistan. We urgently call for restraint on both sides to avoid further escalation."

(Jeremy Hunt, UK Foreign Secretary.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

Yesterday was the February 2019 meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee, which is the joint committee of County Councillors and District or Borough councillors responsible for democratic scrutiny and challenge of the NHS in the county of Cumbria

The meeting was held at County Hall in Kendal from 10.30 am and was open to the public (in fact one member of the public did attend.) The agenda and reports for the meeting are available as in due course the minutes will be when they are published and can be read here.

There was far too much important material on the agenda to do justice to it in a single post. I will make a couple of general observations and will then make follow-up points on some of the important issues discussed, starting with a very important report on cancer care which I will post about tomorrow.

1) All seven representatives of the County Council attended but, despite the importance of the items on the agenda, only one of the six representatives of the six city, district or borough councils was there. I'll not do a "name and shame" on this occasion as I am told that at least one of the absent district councillors is unwell, and to be fair the individual concerned does usually attend. 

But there are signs of a pattern of non-attendance from some district representatives. The worst offenders are, I'm told, stepping down rather than re-standing in the local elections this May. If the problem continues after May I will start calling it out.

2) The committee venue alternates between Carlisle and Kendal. This meeting was discussing an agenda which was almost entirely about healthcare in the North Cumbria area but the meeting took place at the venue in the south of the county. 

County Councillors should of course attend wherever in the county the meeting is held and whatever part of the authority area is on the agenda, but from the point of view of being accessible to members of the public, and saving the time of the NHS officials who come to the meetings as witnesses, it would be helpful to optimise which items come to the committee at which venues. Ironically the one member of the press and public who did attend lives in Copeland: in this particular case we could have saved an hour or so of the valuable time of all the NHS witnesses, all of whom are very busy people, if we'd held this particular meeting in Carlisle.

Midweek music spot: the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah

Quote of the day 27th February 2019

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

March meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland

The March 2019 meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland will take place at Cleator Moor next Tuesday, 4th March 2019.

The agenda and supporting papers can be found here.

The main items on the agenda are a presentation on the Children & Young people's service, items in respect of local highways including the devolved budget and some proposals on speed limits in various roads, and the area planning report.

I note that for the following meeting on 22nd May, the county's local committee will be doing something the Labour group on Copeland Borough Council recently stopped Copeland Council from doing, and holding our next meeting in Millom.

Another referendum?

At a dinner I attended last night there was some talk among non-political people about the possibility of a further referendum about Britain's EU membership.

I did not hear what inspired this but it may well have been the noises which the Labour party is making about the possibility of supporting a further vote.

The opinion being expressed last night is that were such a referendum to be called (which I don't think it will) there would be a larger majority for leave and because that more people who voted Remain last time would change their vote.

I don't know whether that is true of the country as a whole but it certainly fits with what I usually hear from everyone except some Labour and Lib/Dem politicians in the Northern, leave-voting constituency where I live.

Batting the problem back to the electorate is not, in my opinion, likely to achieve more than make people even angrier and more divided.

The voters have given MPs a clear steer about the direction of travel which they want. Now parliament should find a way to deliver it 

Quote of the day 26th February 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

Supporting our high streets on 16th March

On Friday, the Communities Secretary told the Conservative Councillors’ Association that a national campaign day on high streets will be held on 16 March, celebrating the contribution high streets, and the businesses and people who work on them, make to our local communities.

Key facts:

  • The government is committed to helping our high streets adapt to changing circumstances and the rise of online shopping, and to making them fit for the future by providing the right support. 
  • Thanks to our reforms, businesses pay less in rates so they can create more jobs, councils will receive an extra £675 million to modernise their high streets and planning rules are more relaxed to help derelict shops be turned into homes. 
  • On Saturday 16 March, we are urging people across the country to come together to celebrate our high streets and their place at the heart of our communities. We will ensure local businesses are aware of the support they can access to make their businesses fit for the future, while thanking them for helping our communities thrive. 

Why this matters: 

High streets have been at the heart of communities across our country for decades, but we know that they are changing as more people head online or to out-of-town shopping centres. By helping high streets to adapt, we can ensure that they can flourish for generations to come.

Pupils to be warned about FGM

The Education Secretary has confirmed that all secondary school pupils will be taught about Female Genital Mutilation, as part of new relationships, health and sex education guidance being brought to parliament tomorrow.

Key facts

From September 2020 Relationships Education will be compulsory in primary schools in England and Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in secondary schools. The Conservative government is also making Health Education compulsory in all primary and secondary schools.
  • Under bold new proposals, schools should address the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM, raise awareness of support options and ensure pupils know that FGM is against the law. 
  • Our reforms will ensure young people are taught in an age-appropriate way about different forms of abuse, equipping them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe in the modern world. 
  • Everyone must do all they can to protect women and girls from this extreme form of gendered violence, which is why we are making sure all pupils are given all the facts they need to protect themselves and others. 

Why this matters

The new subjects are designed to ensure pupils leave school fully prepared for the modern world – and have the knowledge they need to grow up healthy, happy and safe.

Quote of the day 25th February 2019

“The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union referendum result of 2016, that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29 March 2019.

“Another referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”

(Motion passed by the National Conservative Convention, the main body representing grassroots Conervative party members, at a meeting on Saturday.)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The difference between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Not all critics of the government of Israel or of Zionism are Anti-Semites.

But all Anti-Semites deny being anti-Semitic and describe themselves as Anti-Zionists.

To be precise, since about the time of the liberation of Auschwitz virtually nobody in Western societies will admit to being Anti-Semitic, but unfortunately there are increasing numbers of people who are, and who nearly always describe themselves as Anti-Zionists - or even, God save the mark, as Anti-racism campaigners. More than one person who is sufficiently Anti-Semitic that even Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party expelled them for it does describes himself or hersel as an Anti-Racism campaigner.

Anyway, the Jewish Chronicle, who have been known to publish the occasional article themselves which does not agree with all the policies of the Netanyahu government of Israel, have brought out a handy guide on how to tell the difference between legitimate critics of Israel and Anti-Semites, which you can read here.

Here are some examples of the differences given in the piece between legitimate critics of Israel and Anti-Semites:

"Critics compare Israel to other democratic nations and acknowledge other conflicts.
Antisemites hold Israel to a standard all its own and give disproportionate attention to Israel, as compared to all other conflicts.

Critics acknowledge wrong on both sides and call for solutions.
Antisemites rarely acknowledge any wrongdoing in Palestinian action and call for the end of Israel.

Critics compare Israel to other democratic nations and acknowledge other conflicts.
Antisemites hold Israel to a standard all its own and give disproportionate attention to Israel, as compared to all other conflicts.

Critics believe in Jewish rights to self determination and security and Palestinian rights to the same.
Antisemites believe these pertain to Palestinians only

Critics recognise that both peoples have the right to security and peace.
Antisemites say Zionists deserve neither.

Critics understand that “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” is a call for the ethnic cleansing of Jews and the end to the Jewish state.
Antisemites do, too. But they chant it."

Sunday music spot: S.S. Wesley's "Blessed Be The God And Father"

A masterpiece supposedly written for at a time when Cathedral choirs were at a very low ebb and Wesley needed to produce something special for an important church festival service for which only three trebles and the Dean's butler (who sang bass) were available. Salisbury Cathedra Choir had a bit more than that on hand when they did this excellent recording.

Pub Quiz question of the month

This may or may not become a regular monthly series on this blog, depending on what the traffic monitors tell me about whether people are reading the posts concerned, whether I get any feedback and whether it is positive or negative.

I'm going to post a "pub quiz" style political knowledge question, to which the answer will be found either in the comments or by following a link to an article.

Here's the first one.

Question: Which Prime Minister and chancellor team had previously fought and lost by-elections in adjacent seats on the same day?

The answer is given in a John Rentoul article which can be found here.

Quote of the day 24th February 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Why clever people do stupid things

A few years ago I published a post, which I later republished here, called "When clever people do stupid things."

The points I made included

1) The stupid mistakes which do the most damage are rarely made by stupid individuals, but by intelligent ones – stupid people are rarely in a position to do as much damage as intelligent people.

2) The more eminent you are the more you need to listen to others, because the greater the risk that you. an others who might hesitate to challenge you when they should, may be too inclined to always assume you are right.

3) Our society needs to recognise that expertise in one area often does not translate into expertise in others

This week the New Scientist has an interesting article on a very similar subject:

WHY clever people do stupid things.

There is a link here to the opening words of the article if you don't subscribe online to the magazine and to the whole thing if you do.

They also point out that there are certain intellectual traps which can be MORE likely to catch intelligent people.

The human brain, incredible though it is, has certain inbuilt biases.

We can correct for them if we pay attention to things like
  • confirmation bias (cherry-picking the evidence by paying more attention to those parts of it which support the conclusion you want to believe)
  • the backfire effect (confirmation bias so serious that evidence that your beliefs may be misguided makes you cling to them more strongly) and
but the more you think you are less likely than the average person to fall into those traps, the more such overconfidence may make you vulnerable to them.

The New Scientist article points out that some traps such as the Dunning-Kruger effect (when people drastically over-estimate their own competence and knowledge in an area because they are so ignorant of it that they do not have the information or skills to accurately measure their own competence) which people might think only apply to those they consider "stupid" - can apply to everyone, not just those with low general intelligence.

Indeed it can particularly be a problem for very clever people where someone who genuinely knows themselves to be expert in one field of knowledge may over-estimate the extent to which that expertise carries over into another, possibly related field.

This is why some of the wisest human beings in history, like Socrates, were the most aware of the limitations of their knowledge. He is sometimes quoted as having said this:

There is no proof that Socrates was the originator of the words above, which may be an attempt to explain the views of Socrates by Plato rather than an exact quote from him.

However, it does appear that one of the most important parts of the way that Socrates encouraged people to think was the need to be aware of what you do not know. That is very good advice.

Saturday music spot: Hooked on Bach

Borrowing down

Figures recently released show that government borrowing is the lowest for 17 years - e.g. since well before the 2008 crash - and a record January surplus (more money coming in than going out.)

There is often a budget surplus at this time of the year because of when the money is collected and spent but this is better than usual.

Remember, in 2010 the Coalition inherited the unsustainable position where the government was spending four pounds for every three pounds of revenue coming in.

In my opinion to get Britain's finances onto a more sustainable position we need to gradually reduce government debt rather than just reduce the rate at which it is going up. (I emphasise gradually because trying to do it rapidly could precipitate a recession.)
Nevertheless this is good progress.

Second quote of the day 23rd February 2019

First Quote of the day 23rd Frebruary 2019

Friday, February 22, 2019

The politics of hate

Nothing better sums up how the politics of hate and anger in Britain are stronger than they have ever been in my lifetime - with some of the supporters of the man who called for "kinder, gentler politics" among the worst offenders - than a tweet this morning from a Labour MP who has not resigned from the party:

"Last 2 days I have twice been trending on twitter mainly because of messages from those who hate me. This is a terrible campaign technique on their part & should highlight to people that others can see their vitriol and it's not a good look for the party they claim to love"

I  had a quick look at the timeline of the MP concerned and sure enough many of the people attacking her had "GTTO" on their handles (this stands for "Get The Tories Out" but I don't recognise their ideas of who is a tory. Basically they seem to hate anyone whose views differ in the tiniest degree from theirs.)

There should be no contradiction in my saying that I disagree strongly with most of what Jess Philips stands for but I also respect her as a parliamentarian who works for what she believes in and condemn those - from whatever part of the political spectrum - who cross the line between constructive disagreement and abuse when they write about her.

Most of whom appear to be supporters, not of my party, but of the same one she represents in parliament.

The same thing can be seen in resignation letter after resignation letter from people who have left the Labour party in the past few days.

I have already quoted a few: here's another from former MP Michael Dugher:

Almost 28 years ago to the day, I joined the Labour Party. Next week, after almost three decades, I will be resigning my membership over the party’s repeated failure to adequately tackle anti-Semitism. 

All my political and adult life I have been a great friend and admirer of the Jewish community. The contribution they have made and continue to make to our country is immeasurable. The Labour Party I joined was a proud anti-racist party. Not so today. 

Labour’s bosses and party HQ have had repeated opportunities to fix the problem they undoubtedly have with anti-Semitism — and they’ve repeatedly failed to do so. Words are not enough. We need action. 

Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism his whole political life. His excuse always seems to be that he was present but not involved. That excuse just doesn’t wash any more.

Another resignation from the Labour party in the past 24 hours from Ian Austin MP, who will sit as an Independent but not join "The Independent Group" because he disagrees with their hard-line remain position on Brexit  (he voted Remain but stands by the manifesto promise on which he was re-elected to parliament in 2017 that the referendum result should be respected.)

His resignation quote is perhaps the most devastating of the lot:

‘I left the Labour Party for the same reason I joined it; to fight racism...”

Councillor Dany Louise wrote in her letter of resignation from the Labour party that the "level of denial" by Jeremy Corbyn supporters over Labour's antisemitism problem "leaves me in despair".

After commenting on the "disgraceful" treatment by the Labour party of Lucianer Berger MP and Dame Margaret Hodge, and the abuse of John Mann MP, Rachel Riley and may others by "vile anti-Semitic JC4PM activists" she concluded that

"This is the sort of self-righteous dogmatism, ignorance and denial of facts that enabled the Holocaust."

Not one of the quotes above comes from a Conservative or a member of the "right-wing press." they are all from people who have spent years working for the Labour party and have help public office as Labour representatives, explaining their concerns about their own party or the one they were leaving.

There is too much anger and hate in all parties. I don't want to pretend that there is no problem in the Conservatives or indeed in quite a few other parties, but it is particularly bad in Labour.

As Mike Smithson and David Herdson from Political Betting have pointed out today, with Ian Austin's resignation from Labour  no fewer than sixteen of the 262 Labour MPs who were elected on June 8th 2017 are no longer in the party.

That is more than half the net seat gain of 30 that Labour made at the last election.


And that is because in Labour the problem starts at the top. As Nick Cohen wrote in the Spectator just under a week ago - and what a week it has been -

‘An MP next to me just burst into tears in the voting lobby,’ said one Labour politician. 

‘All the hypocrite union leaders support Corbyn, or pretend to,’ said another. ‘But if a boss treated his employees the way Labour treats its MPs, they would be shouting from the rooftops.’ 

A third, one of the party’s greatest assets, told me: ‘I may not stand again. Momentum wants to put me up for reselection. I’d probably win. But who wants to waste their life fighting them? And for what?’ 

Every MP I spoke to talked of the stress of dealing with a party dominated by tiny-minded people in the grip of paranoid fantasies.

Quote of the day 22nd February 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

West Cumbria Mining application decision postponed to March

Sadly it has been necessary again to postpone the decision on the application for a new mine in Whitehaven yet again.

At one stage it had been planned that it would come to committee tomorrow but the application is now expected to be determined at the March meeting of the County Council's development control committee.

This is an extraordinarily complex application and it was necessary to re-consult after the applicants made significant changes to the proposals to reflect the need to drain the mine safely.

A county council spokesman told the Whitehaven News:

“Both West Cumbria Mining and Cumbria County Council are working hard to resolve the remaining outstanding issues raised by the last round of public consultation in December 2018 to January 2019.

“That consultation dealt with WCM`s revised proposal to drive two new sections of tunnels to reach the coal, instead of de-watering and using part of the old existing Anhydrite mine.

“Because the impacts are different, some new matters have emerged that need to be addressed. We are confident that they will be and we are working towards a date of 19 March for a decision on the application.”

Training future leaders in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The government has announced new measures to train the next generation of leaders in Artificial Intelligence, keeping the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology and creating high-skilled jobs around the country.

Key facts:
  • We are launching a nationwide programme of industry-funded AI Masters courses, coupled with work-based placements, to drive up skills in the AI sector. 
  • We will also open 16 new AI Centres for Doctoral Training at universities around the country, where 1,000 students will have the opportunity to enhance their skills while developing the UK’s world-leading research into Artificial Intelligence. 
  • Up to five AI research Fellowships will also be created, in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, to attract and retain the best research talent from around the world. 

Why this matters:

The UK is leading the way on AI, and this announcement, as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, will help to drive high-skilled jobs, growth and productivity across the whole UK.

  • Today’s AI announcement comes as new figures show investment in the UK’s AI sector reached a record high last year – almost as much as the rest of Europe combined. 
  • The number of venture capital investments into the UK’s rapidly growing AI sector leapt by 17 per cent last year. 
  • Tech Nation have said that that the figures prove the UK has ‘the strongest AI investment market in Europe’, outstripping places like France and Germany.

Personal Health budgets

The Minister for Care announced today that hundreds of thousands more people will receive access to a personal health budget, giving them more choice and control over how their care is delivered.

Key facts:

  • Wheelchair users and people who access aftercare services under the Mental Health Act will have the right to a personal health budget, giving them greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support. 
  • Over 40,000 people already benefit from the scheme but, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the government will make personal health budgets available to up to 200,000 people by 2024. 
  • The NHS will also expand access for more people with ongoing mental health needs, veterans, autistic people or those with learning difficulties and people receiving adult social care support. 

Why this matters:

The NHS Long Term Plan is a historic moment for patients, and by giving people more control and flexibility over the support they receive, we can ensure they are receiving the best care, allowing them to enjoy their lives to the full.

Quote of the day 21st February 2019

From an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn

‘My wife and I are having our first child in two weeks’ time. One day my son may ask me what I did to stop you from ever becoming Prime Minister. Well, this is a small act, but it’s what I can do.

I will no longer pay subscriptions to an anti-Semitic movement. I will sign one pledge, and that is to stop a party led by anti-Semites from ever gaining power in this country. I will continue to live by the values on the back of my now torn-up membership card.’

(Adam Langleben, a former Labour councillor in Barnet, extract from an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn explaining why he has resigned from the Labour party. Source here.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Resignations galore

Well, this week certainly has not been boring.

Three or four MPs had already resigned from the Labour party: seven more went as a group on Monday morning and were joined by an eighth on Monday evening who will now sit for a time as an independent group and have been nicknamed the "TIGgers" (for "The Indepenent Group.")

There has also been a steady flow of councillors and former MPs resigning from the Labour party.

Today I was sorry to see that three Conservative MPs have joined them.

The people leaving Labour have given a string of reasons, with the leadership's failure to tackle Anti-Semitism front and centre, the opinion that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be a threat to national security as a second, and disagreement with his policy on Brexit as a third.

The three MPs who left the Conservative party will be missed: no party which hopes to achieve anything positive in politics can afford to be other than disappointed when people leave it. However there disagreements seemed to be much narrower in focus. They claimed that the Conservative party is moving to the right (a view which I don't share for a moment) and is too much in thrall to the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG)

I can't agree. The ERG recently tried and failed to bring down the PM.

What is evident is tht we are in for a tumultuous political era.

Midweek music spot: Hooked on classics - Viva Vivaldi

Employment Figures

New figures released this week show that the number of people in work in Britain is at a record high and wages are growing at their fastest rate in over a decade.

This means that people’s pay can go further, and more people have the security of a regular wage to provide for their families.

The Conservative government is helping people into work by reforming welfare so work always pays, while backing businesses to create more, better paying jobs across the whole country through our careful economic management and modern Industrial Strategy.

Businesses create jobs but since 2010, Conservative-led governments have created and environment in which over 3.5 million more people have found employment and there are now a record number of disabled people in work.

Nobody’s ability to work should be dictated by their disability and everyone deserves to fulfil their career ambitions, which is why the Conervatives have relentlessly focussed on breaking down barriers to work.

Behind every employment number is a person and a family whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.

Key statistics:
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.4 per cent compared with a year earlier. Prices rose by 2.1 per cent in the year to December, so wages continue to rise faster than prices and hard-working families are keeping more of what they earn. 
  • Employment: A record high of 32.60 million (up 444,000 over the last year and up by 3.55 million since 2010). 
  • Employment rate: 75.8 per cent (up 0.7 points over the past year and up 5.6 points since 2010). Unemployment: 1.36 million (down 100,000 over the past year and down by 1.15 million since 2010). 
  • Unemployment rate: A record low of 4.0 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 3.9 points since 2010) – halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 429,000 fewer young people out of work than in 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: Almost 1 million disabled people (930,000) have entered work since 2013, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people. 

Other useful statistics:
  • The employment rate among ethnic minority groups is now 66.5 per cent. 
  • Nearly four-fifths of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs, with 2.6 per cent of our workforce on zero-hour contracts – a reduction over the last year. 
  • There are over 1.6 million more women in work since 2010.
All this is good news, but there is more to do and the Conservative government will work to do it. 

Quote of the day 20th February 2019

(Lord) Danny Finkelstein writing in The Times on how he felt, as a Jewish person, about the sight of Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP, resigning from the Labour party because of the failure of the leadership of that party to deal with antisemitism.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Using technology to transform patient care

It was announced today that a new joint unit, NHSX, will be created to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician.

It will combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry. NHSX will aim to create the most advanced health and care service in the world to diagnose diseases earlier, free up staff time and empower patients to take greater control of their own healthcare.

Currently, much NHS technology relies on systems designed for a pre-internet age.
  • Patients are not getting the care they need because their data does not follow them round the system. 
  • Change has been slow because responsibility for digital, data and tech has been split across multiple agencies, teams and organisations. 
  • NHSX will change this by bringing together all the levers of policy, implementation and change for the first time. 

NHSX will work with the NHS and the wider digital economy to build world-class digital services.

These will improve care for patients and enable medical research. The organisation will use experts in technology, digital, data and cyber security to deliver on the Health Secretary’s tech vision and the Long Term Plan for the NHS.

NHSX’s responsibilities will include: 
  • setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology, digital and data - including data-sharing and transparency setting standards – developing, agreeing and mandating clear standards for the use of technology in the NHS 
  • ensuring that NHS systems can talk to each other across the health and care system helping to improve clinical care by delivering agile, user-focused projects 
  • supporting the use of new technologies by the NHS, both by working with industry and via its own prototyping and development capability 
  • ensuring that common technologies and services, including the NHS App, are designed so that trusts and surgeries don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time 
  • making sure that all source code is open by default so that anyone who wants to write code for the NHS can see what we need 
  • reforming procurement – helping the NHS buy the right technology through the application of technology standards, streamlined spend controls and new procurement frameworks that support our standards 
  • setting national strategy and mandating cyber security standards, so that NHS and social care systems have security designed in from the start 
  • championing and developing digital training, skills and culture so our staff are digital-ready delivering an efficient process for technology spend, domain name management and website security 

The CEO of NHSX will have strategic responsibility for setting the national direction on technology across organisations. The CEO will be accountable to the Health Secretary and chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement.

NHSX will work closely with the Government Digital Service and other central government functions to learn from their experiences and ensure there is continued alignment with the Digital, Data and Technology profession across government.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

"Modern technology has an incredible potential to change people’s lives for the better and revolutionise the care they receive.

Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology. But everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital.

We’ve set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS Long Term Plan. Now we’re bringing together the tech leadership into NHSX, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians’ time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health. 

NHSX will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators, and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish. This is just the beginning of the tech revolution, building on our Long Term Plan to create a predictive, preventative and unrivalled NHS."

Meeting venues - Carlisle vs Kendal.

As I posted here yesterday the February meeting of the health scrutiny committee responsible for democratic scrutiny and challenge of the NHS in the county of Cumbria will take place at County Hall in Kendal from 10.30 am on Tuesday 26th February 2019.

The meeting will be open to the public. The agenda and reports for the meeting are available in the County Council website here.

I have just returned home to West Cumbria after a couple of days down south at my father-in-law's funeral and started reading the agenda.

I am more that a little surprised at the way that agenda has panned out. 

These meetings approximately alternate between Carlisle and Kendal. Mostly they contain a mix of North/West/East Cumbria and South Cumbria/Morecombe Bay items.

This time, except for the boilerplate agenda items like declarations of interest, committee briefing report, data of next meeting, every single major item on the agenda is wholly or almost entirely about North Cumbria. 

To be precise, there are five major items on the agenda, of which four are entirely about the NHS in the Northern two thirds of Cumbria with no relevance to the Barrow and South Lakes area at all, and the fifth is mostly about North Cumbria with some potential knock on effects in the south of the county. 

And it's one of the meetings held in Kendal!

Almost certainly too late to change the venue now without causing disruption which would be more trouble than it's worth, but I will be suggesting that next time we have an agenda which is this heavily weighted towards one side of the county we make that meeting one of the ones held in that part of the county, so as to avoid causing unnecessary travel time for the busy representatives of the NHS who present reports at our meetings and to make it easier for members of the public with an interest in the items on the agenda to attend.

In memoriam for Michael O'Hara: Lord Let Me Know Mine End (Greene)

Quote of the day 19th February 2019

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday music spot: J.S. Bach's Missa brevis in G minor

February meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The February meeting of the health scrutiny committee responsible for democratic scrutiny and challenge of the NHS in the county of Cumbria will take place at County Hall in Kendal from 10.30 am on Tuesday 26th February 2019.

The meeting will be open to the public. The agenda and reports for the meeting will be published in the next day or so and will be available here.

POSTSCRIPT - they have indeed now been published and are available by following the above link.

Quote of the day 18th February 2019

"Nation-building is never pretty."

(Vice Admiral Katrina Cornwell, played by Jayne Brook, Star Trek Discovery season 2 episode 5)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: J.S. Bach's: Triple Concerto

For all those from Copeland Conservatives who were out on the stump in Corkickle and all those other Conservatives who have been out campaigning today.


It seems to have become popular on various parts of the hard-left in recent months to seek publicity and pose as an iconoclast by attacking Winston Churchill.

It's not difficult to find grounds, a few justified, some grossly oversimplified, others complete rubbish, on which to attack Churchill. As someone who was born, grew up, served in the army and was first elected to parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria it is hardly surprising that some of his views appear utterly unacceptable to the millennial generation, particularly when quoted out of context.

Churchill was the sort of leader who produces lots of ideas, a few brilliant, many of them terrible, who can be very successful overall if he or she has senior advisors with the guts to tell him when his latest hobbyhorse is insane and the wisdom to listen to them, but will be a disaster if surrounded by yes-men or who refuses to listen to good advice.

Yes, he made some terrible mistakes, though ironically, far from being iconoclastic, the attacks which have been parroted against him by sections of the British left over the last few months have largely been repeats of grossly distorted and oversimplified tropes, or accusations which are complete rubbish, and ignored the decisions on which he is actually most open to criticism - letting Admiral Fisher develop the battlecruiser, for example, his role in sending the Black and Tans to Ireland, or his decision to put Britain back on the Gold Standard (which Churchill himself later regarded as the worst mistake of his life.)

But even if every word which has been written about Churchill's role in the Tonypandy riots, the Bengal Famine, and the supposed abandonment of the 51st Highland division had been fair, his role in inspiring Britain to stand up against Nazi Germany at the time when Hitler posed the greatest threat to civilisation in human history would still make him one of the greatest heroes of all time.

Andrew Neil's brilliant opening to "The Week" on Thursday 14th February 2019 deserves to be considered the definitive summary of the achievements of Winston Churchill and can be found here.

On the specific points on which Churchill has been attacked by the left

1) A more nuanced and balanced account by Richard Langworth of the myths and reality concerning the Tonypandy riots can be found on the website of Hillsdale college in the USA here.

2) Most informed observers would agree that the Bengal Famine was not the finest hour of anyone involved - not the national or local British authorities or the Indian government. It was a massively complex disaster which had a number of causes, and putting the entire blame on the malice of any single actor, either Churchill or anyone else, is oversimplifying to the point of being ludicrous. The causes included:

Natural Disasters:
  • The late 1942 rice crop was afflicted by a severe outbreak of fungal brown spot disease. This was described by the biologist S.Y. Padmanabhan in his 1973 article "The Great Bengal Famine" as so destructive that "nothing as devastating ... has been recorded in plant pathological literature."
  • A cyclone and three storm surges in October 1942 ravaged croplands, destroyed houses and killed thousands, at the same time dispersing high levels of the brown spot fungal spores across the region and increasing the spread of the crop disease
  • The combined effect of the weather systems and crop disease was devastating: "7,400 villages were partly or wholly destroyed by the storm, and standing flood waters remained for weeks in at least 1,600 villages. Cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases flourished. 527,000 houses and 1,900 schools were lost. Over 1000 square miles of the most fertile paddy land in the province was entirely destroyed." (Mukherjee, Janam: "Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire." Oxford University Press 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-061306-8.)
Enemy Action

Japanese attacks both contributed directly to the disaster and made dealing with it vastly more difficult in the following three ways:
  • Invasion of Burma: The Japanese conquest of Burma both made it impossible to buy rice from that country and flooded Bengal with refugees. A scorched earth policy by local British military authorities designed to stop the invasion probably also contributed to the famine, though given what had recently happened to local populations over-run by Imperial Japanese forces, the commanders responsible would have intended their actions to prevent an even greater human catastrophe. Anyone who doubts they had good reason to fear dire consequences for the people of India were the Japanese not stopped should read about the Rape of Nanking.
  • Bombing raids: Japanese bombing of Calcutta, and mishandled attempts by the local authorities to deal with the food shortages caused by the raids, had disastrous and long-lasting consequences for the supply of food in the province.
  • Attacks on shipping: from January 1942 to May 1943, the Axis powers sank 230 British and Allied merchant ships displacing a total of 873,000 tons in the Indian Ocean alone. The loss of these ships enormously complicated allied logistical problems and the war cabinet would have had reason to fear that any food they attempted to send to Bengal by ship was all too likely to end up at the bottom of the sea along with desperately needed ships and sailors.
You could write lengthy books arguing about the extent to which the failure to deal with the starvation and disease which resulted from these events was due to mistakes by the local British authorities, Churchill's government in London, and the Indian authorities, and people have.

I would not dispute that the famine was a terrible human disaster or that it was one of Churchill's worst failures. However, in the context of the problems caused by the natural disasters and enemy action described above, to suggest as some people do that the famine was all Churchill's fault and use out-of-context quotes to suggest that he deliberately caused the famine because he didn't like the Indians is not just a smear, but a ridiculous one.

3) The 51st Highland Division

Churchill has been wrongly accused of abandoning the 51st division at the time of Dunkirk. This unit had been deployed before he became PM to a part of France from which evacuation at Dunkirk with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would have been utterly impractical. Here is a piece which I wrote when Churchill was accused last year of abandoning the division:

4) The latest ridiculous smear against Churchill, on Question Time this week, was that he was  somehow responsible or involved with the Concentration caps set up by Kitchener during the second Boer war. What utter nonsense!

For most of his involvement in the Boer War Churchill had no official position and was there as a journalist - he was war correspondent for the Daily Mail and Morning Post. When he signed up and re-joined the army in 1900 it was as a very junior officer - a subaltern in the South African Light Horse.

All the decisions about the creation and administration of the concentration camps which were set up during the second Boer war - and, by the way, I regard the conditions in which people were held in them as one of the worst mistakes ever made by the British Empire - were way above Churchill's pay grade at the time.


Winston Churchill was a remarkable man. There is no doubt that during his long period of public service he made some terrible mistakes and was dead wrong about a great many things. There is also no doubt that in the face of the most evil and dangerous threat ever faced by modern civilisation on this planet, that of Hitler's Nazi regime, his courage and adversity made an immense contribution to the defeat of that threat.

As his grandson Nicholas Soames said, Churchill's reputation will survive these attacks. Those who belittle Churchill to gain a little cheap publicity or score a childish political point only make themselves look small.

The last words on Churchill should be these from the article the Spectator wrote on Churchill in 1965 as he was dying and which I quoted yesterday:

"We live as free men, we speak as free men, we walk as free men because a man called Winston Churchill lived."

Five new laws.

On Tuesday five important pieces of legislation received "Royal Assent" and will now became law.

These measures will help people with the cost of living and give the police and prosecutors more powers to keep people safe. 


  • The Tenant Fees Act will make the rental market fairer and cheaper for tenants. It bans unfair letting fees and caps deposits at five weeks’ rent.


  • The Voyeurism Act will better protect victims and bring more offenders to justice.  Upskirting perpetrators now face up to two years in jail, with the most serious put on the sex offenders register.


  • The Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act will help to keep people safe. It introduces a variety of new laws including updating terrorism offences for the digital age, strengthening sentencing for terrorism-related offences and strengthening police powers to prevent and investigate terrorism.


  • The Finance Act tackles the cost of living and backs British business. It will cut taxes for 32 million people, freeze fuel duty for a ninth year in a row, extend our stamp duty relief and allow businesses to benefit from a new capital allowance.


  • The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act gives police quicker access to data held overseas.  It helps UK law enforcement agencies to get access to the data they need to convict terrorists, paedophiles and those involved in serious crime.