Friday, May 31, 2019

The eyes have it, part four

There are times when it is impossible not to realise how fortunate we are to live in today's world rather than any other period in history.

From the age of six until three years ago I was utterly dependent on very strong glasses or contact lenses to see anything much. For most of human history a person with uncorrected eyesight as poor as mine was would have been severely handicapped by it.

And it would have got worse. Five minutes before the first of the operations to correct my sight, I learned from the pre-operation check that I was in the early stages of developing a cataract in my right eye. If I had been born a century earlier or at any time before that I would have faced going completely blind in at least one eye.
No longer. Thanks to a miracle of modern science I was able to have the lenses of my eyes replaced in 2016 and I no longer need glasses. This surgery was life-changing.

I was warned at the time that there was a small chance that some opacity might develop after the operation but if so it could corrected by a relatively simple laser treatment. (For anyone interested, it's called YAG Capsulotomy.)

Earlier this year that problem did arise, in the same eye which had been developing the cataract. I had a very simple, non invasive procedure today in Liverpool - which took a few minutes and did not require even any injections of local anaesthetic, just a few eye drops. One doesn't want to speak too soon but the signs so far for the success of the procedure are extremely positive.

I'd like to thank the surgeon and staff of the Optimax clinics at Liverpool and Newcastle for their skill, care and support.

Friday music spot: Widor's Toccata

More is needed

That is the title of today's Jewish Chronicle leader article about the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into the Labour Party.

It can be read here.

Anyone who seriously claims to be an opponent of racism should read it and think.

Anti-Semitism is not the only type of racism which is blighting this country. And no party or group can afford to be complacent - about prejudice against Jews, prejudice against Muslims, or any other kind of prejudice.

But we all need to think about what we personally are going to do to oppose it.

Quote of the day 31st May 2019

Today being the last day of May reminded me of "the darling buds of May" in William Shakespeare's eighteenth sonnet - one of the greatest love poems ever written.

From most writers the last lines would be an incredible conceit, but from Shakespeare it was a statement of fact. He knew that, insofar as any work of man can be immortal, this poem would be, and would confer that immortality on the memory of the person to whose beauty he dedicated it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday music spot "In native worth and honor clad" from Haydn's The Creation

Resolution foundation finds big fall in wage inequality since 2015

Independent research by the Resolution Foundation has found that, quote

"The proportion of low-paid workers across Britain has fallen to its lowest level since 1980 - falling by 200,000 in the last year alone, and by 900,000 since 2015. This welcome fall in low pay has been driven by the introduction of the National Living Wage."

This is based on a big drop since about 2013 in the proportion of workers paid less than two thirds of the median wage (the "below 2/3 median" line in this graph)

Since the higher ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) was introduced for those aged 25 and over in 2016, the percentage of employees in low pay (paid less than two thirds of median hourly pay) has fallen from 20.7 per cent in 2015 to 17.1 per cent in 2018.

During the latter part of the period on the above chart, particularly after the introduction by George Osborne of the National Living Wage, the floor level of wages for the majority of workers rose significantly, which is why the proportion at the wage floor has gone up slightly.

The "Living Wage" is an estimate of the wages required to meet the cost of living, which pre-dates the government's National Living Wage: between the impact of the 2008 recession and about 2015, the proportion of people living on incomes below that level increased by about 50% but the National Living Wage and the fact that real wages are recovering and have now passed pre-recession levels has stabilised this.

Also over this period the number of people in work has increased by more than three million to the highest employment rates for forty years, and the increase in Personal Allowance has taken millions of low-paid families out of the scope of income tax.

The impact of this is that the Conservative and coalition governments have done vastly more to reduce income inequality in this country than Blair and Brown ever did.

The Resolution Foundation's report can be found here.

Quote of the day 30th May 2019

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A clean campaign pledge

I was pleased to see that three of the candidates for the Conservative leadership, so far, have signed a clean campaign pledge. Well done Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab for this, but I hope and expect all the other candidates rest will also sign and act accordingly.

Midweek music spot: Vivaldi (arr. Bach) Concerto for four harpsichords

Yes, I know the title on the clip describes this as being by Bach.

Antonio Vivaldi actually composed this music as a concerto for four violins and Bach transcribed it for four harpsichords. I like both versions.

Next "Saturday Chataway" in Thwaites Village Hall this weekend

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, will hold her next ‘Saturday Chataway’ surgery in Thwaites Village Hall at The Green this weekend.

Councillors and locally elected members will join Trudy Harrison MP at Thwaites Village Hall on Saturday to speak with constituents, listen to their concerns and suggestions and assist with any issues.

The address is Thwaites Village Hall, The Green, Millom, LA18 5HJ

Each month, these coffee morning style surgeries raise money for a much valued local organisation or charity. The event will be held between 10am – 12pm.

Refreshments available, with all proceeds going to Thwaites Village Hall.

Email issues

I try to respond to individual emails within 72 hours, or faster if possible.

This does not apply to unsolicited attempts to sell me things, circular messages which have gone to a wide circulation such as every member of the county council (especially from people on the other side of the country trying to stop people in my division getting jobs) or messages which appear to contain harmful attachments or not to come from the people they purport to be from.

But if I see a message which appears to be from a constituent I will respond as quickly as possible.

I have had some problems in the past with genuine emails not getting through to me, either because they are picked up in error by my SPAM filters (all the more infuriating given the mountain of SPAM which does get through) or because of technical problems, particularly with my county council email.

If you are a constituent and you have sent me an email and not had a response within 72 hours, then

1) please accept my apologies, and

2) the most likely explanation is that I have not seen it.

In this case please telephone me (my home number is in the telephone directory, my county council phone number is given on the county councillor details page of the Cumbria County Council website) or drop me a letter.

Helping ex-offenders to get work and "go straight"

Those who break the law should be punished. But when they have completed that punishment it is in everyone's interest including their own, their families and that of the wider community to help them "go straight" and make a fresh start. That includes getting an honest job.

That is why the government is taking more action to help ex-offenders get into work, reducing the likelihood of reoffending and cutting the £15 billion cost to the economy each year whilst keeping the public safe. 

Key facts
  • One year on from the launch of the Education and Employment Strategy for prisoners, 230 additional businesses have joined the Ministry of Justice’s flagship work placement scheme for ex-offenders.
  • Evidence shows ex-prisoners in work are less likely to reoffend – cutting the £15 billion cost of reoffending to the economy, with ex-offenders up to 9 percentage points less likely to commit further crime. 
  • The government is also changing rules to allow prison governors greater autonomy to grant temporary release to offenders, following a rigorous risk assessment, allowing them to work and train while serving their sentence increasing their employment prospects on release. 
  • Reducing reoffending through rehabilitation has worked alongside our investment of hundreds of millions of pounds since the beginning of 2018 to increase stability in prisons with latest statistics showing an 11 per cent fall in violence in the last quarter of 2018. 

Why this matters

Improving access to training and work opportunities is a vital part of our strategy to steer offenders away from a life of crime, reduce reoffending and ultimately keep the public safe.

An old delusion makes an unwelcome comeback

I was sorry to see one of the most foolish ideas from the student politics of my youth making an unwelcome return in a tweet from the leader of the opposition - the idea that .the worlds of business and education have nothing to offer each other.

The worst thing which can possibly happen to Universities is that they become ivory towers with no link to the real world or the actual challenges facing the country.

Jeremy Corbyn tweeted at the weekend that he wants to see "a National Education Service to abolish university fees and deliver free education for all. Let's get corporations out of the classroom and off campus."

I would love to see the abolition of the University Tuition fees which were initially introduced by the last Labour government after they promised at the 1997 general election that Labour had "no plans" to do so. Labour then doubled the fees, breaking their promise at the 2001 election that they would not introduce higher or "top-up" fees and had legislated to prevent them.

I wish I could convince myself that any party had a credible way to fund the implementation of any promise to scrap tuition fees. But I cannot.

If Labour is elected on a promise to scrap student fees there is a good chance that this will be yet another broken promise to add to twenty years of broken promises on student fees.

All three political parties have U-turned in their policies on student fees and financial support. Everyone remembers that the Lib/Dems promised at the 2010 general election not to vote for higher University tuition fees and then did so.

Not quite so many people remember that Labour have broken three such promises. They broke the promises made at the 1997 and 2001 general elections as described above, and when they voted through "top-up fees" the Labour government promised that there would be no further increase in student fees before the end of the following parliament, but then broke that promise to in 2009.

Unlike Labour and the Lib/Dems the Conservative U-turn on the subject didn't break an election promise, because it took place well before the 2010 election in which the Conservatives  returned to government. 

However, since all three major parties have opposed student fees at least some of the time when in opposition, but invariably introduced, maintained  or increased them when in government, a reasonable person might conclude that scrapping such fees is something  they would all like to do but have found it completely impossible to afford in practice.

But the promise to abolish fees, though completely incredible, is not the daftest element of 
the Leader of the Opposition's tweet.

That is the promise to get "corporations out of the classroom and off campus."

This is not a new idea, the suggestion that business was an enemy to be excluded from the ivory towers of academia was popular among a certain type of idealistic and utterly impractical hard-left student back when Jeremy Corbyn was at university himself.

So sadly it is not a surprise that his anti-business worldview should lead him to resurrect this idea. But it was insanity fifty years ago and it is insanity now.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to break all the links between education
 and industry when most of them have been of immense benefit to both sides?

And when I say that links with business have been of benefit to education I don't primarily 
mean the money those links have provided to schools and universities, though that has certainly been welcome. I refer to the opportunity for students and staff to learn from real-world and often cutting-edge challenges. 

Academics need to keep their skills up to date, and that invariably means they need to study or practice as well as teach. When a company gives a research contract to a university to work on a cutting edge project in IT, genetics, medicine or chemistry, the fact that such contracts are almost always highly lucrative for the university is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of but it isn't actually the most important benefit. It's not even one of the top two.

The first is the skill development opportunity it provides for the university's people to be involved in this research. The second is the benefit to recruitment and retention of the brightest staff members which comes with that opportunity and the prestige of winning such contracts.

And where do you imagine most of the students attending schools and universities will be looking to get jobs when they leave or graduate? From businesses, of course. What better way to make sure that they have the opportunity to get the skills which will enable them to get those jobs and succeed at them than to have links between education and business? How can you expect teachers to know what skills businesses are looking for if you don't allow academics and industry to talk to each other?

Many courses at universities and colleges are highly vocational in nature, such as engineering, law, medicine, accountancy. Any attempt to stop the people who teach those courses from having links with other practitioners in those fields is not just stupid - it simply won't work. And if it was seriously attempted it would stop the brightest people taking jobs in UK universities - they would go into private industry or they would go abroad.

It is par for the course, and yet another indication that under Jeremy Corbyn's "leadership" the Labour party is too far out of touch with the real world to have any chance of being anything other than a disaster if they get into government, that he does not understand why "getting corporations out of the classroom and off campus" is a really, really bad idea.

Quote of the day 29th May 2019

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Stephen Daisley on Brexit and the "liberal nervous breakdown."

It has been my opinion for a long time that a significant proportion of the British political spectrum becomes somewhat irrational when the subject of the EU comes up and that this applies at both ends of the pro-to-anti Brexit spectrum.

On the one hand there has for a long time been an element of the UK establishment which always appears to believe that the EU can do no wrong, that any problems with the EU's failure to account properly for the money it spends which lead the Court of Auditors to publish critical reports are all the fault of member states, that everything the EU side of any negotiations with Britain says should be treated as gospel while those by our own side are received with robust scepticism, and any failure by British negotiators to agree to the everything the EU asks for is intransigence.

There is a mirror-image of this worldview among those for whom the "EUSSR" can do nothing right, who will never take the European Union's side even in disputes with despots. For example. their loathing for the European Union is so great that they will find ways to blame Europe for such matters as the disputes between Putin's Russia and its' former satellites, particularly the Ukraine, as if a wish on the part of the European Union to trade with the peoples of Eastern Europe could possibly justify the murderous aggression which Putin's regime has inflicted on the unfortunate people of that country.

Mrs May's premiership was destroyed by what amounted to an unholy alliance between hardline pro-Europeans and hardline pro-Brexiteers who were equally unwilling to compromise. The pro-remain MPs who consistently voted against her deal were convinced that they could thereby obtain a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all: the pro-Leave MPs who voted it down were convinced that they could thereby obtain a harder Brexit, possibly one which they call "WTO" Brexit and everyone else calls "No deal" Brexit.

These two groups cannot both be right - either one of them is completely deluding itself or both are taking an enormous risk of helping to cause what they ought logically to regard as the worst possible outcome.

It is very common for people on the remain end of the spectrum to accuse leavers of being irrational but less common for people to recognise that what is sometimes called "Brexit derangement syndrome" exists at both ends.

There is a good piece by Stephen Daisley who describes himself as being of liberal views, about the "cruel psychological torture" which the response to the Brexit vote has inflicted on liberalism (with a lower-case "l.")

As he puts it

"Brexit angst is driving liberals to take positions they would have recognised as reactionary and illogical not so long ago. Decrying the BBC has become de rigueur in a way once confined to Tory conference fringes and mad academic symposiums on Zionist control of the media. Some remainers have convinced themselves the Corporation is pushing not only a pro-Leave agenda, but a pro-Farage one."

"Liberals on this side of the Atlantic have become as accustomed as their analogues on the other side to blaming their defeats on nefarious Russian plots. That’s not to say that the Kremlin doesn’t seek to influence elections in the West (it does) or that Putin wouldn’t favour the destabilisation of a rival superstate (he would). But liberals have fashioned a soothing parable in which a few Russian troll farms are all that’s stopping the people of Sunderland from embracing their inner European integrationist."

"A fair whack of Remainers are positive their opponents are knuckle-dragging bigots."

"Tell yourself often enough that your opponents are Freddy Krueger and you will come to resent all democratic niceties and wonder if a more direct approach might be in order."

"Liberalism is having a nervous breakdown at the very moment we need it most."

It is a good article which you can read here.

Quote of the day 28th May 2019

"When we come in third after the Brexit party, that is a clue something is wrong with our strategy."

(Diane Abbott on Twitter yesterday detects that Labour has a problem.)

Yes - parties which promised to implement the decision of the voters in the referendum and failed to do so have been punished for it.

It's time for MPs to live up to the promises on which they were elected.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Sajid Javid for PM

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has declared that he is standing to be leader of the Conservative party and PM and he has my support. 

I believe that of the contenders who are standing Saj has the best chance to unite the country, create opportunities for all, deliver Conservative election promises and be a successful Prime Minister for the whole United Kingdom.




The results in the European elections held on Thursday and counted and announced last night are the clearest possibly indication that the country is polarising in its' views on Europe.

Of those who voted - about a third of the electorate:

Millions of voters are furious that we are still in the EU having voted to leave, six weeks after we were supposed to do so. Hence the rise of the Brexit party which was only formed six weeks ago to a stunning first place in the European elections.

Millions of other voters want to try to stop us leaving - hence the resurrection of the Lib/Dems.

Parties which tried to appeal to both leave and remain voters - the Conservatives and Labour - took a hammering.

Two thirds of the electorate did not vote

We don't have any accurate figures about how many millions think we should have left and didn't vote in protest - though you can bet your life it is in the millions - or how many had the opposite opinion, how many were genuinely unable to vote and how many don't care..

I personally suspect that the number of people who stayed at home in protest because they don't want to leave the EU is vastly smaller than the number who stayed at home in protest because we haven't. Plenty of voters told me they were refusing to vote on Thursday because the elections should not be taking place as we should have left but I have not met a single voter who said they were staying at home because they don't want to leave the EU. Why would anyone stay at home in protest at the UK holding elections for a body they want Britain to be part of?

So those pro-remain voices in the media and elsewhere who have added up the votes for the Lib/Dems and other pro-Remain parties to get to a higher total than the Brexit party and UKIP and are therefore suggesting that these elections show that Britain now wants to stay in the EU are probably kidding themselves.

It was a ghastly night for both the Conservatives and Labour.

I still think that the government of Britain needs to address the concerns of both the 52% who voted Leve and the 48% who voted Remain, but if there is one thing which is clear from this election is that any such attempt cannot include any ambiguity about whether you now support Remain or Leave.

If we want this country to get over Brexit and return to being governable, we have to deliver what people voted for in 2016 and 80% of MPs promised in the 2017 manifestos and leave the EU.

Here is a reminder of why we have not already left:

90% of Conservative MPs, five honourable Labour MPs and four Independents voted to leave the EU with a deal. The other parties and 34 Conservatives MPs - about 10% - voted against.

This is no longer mainly about the merits of Brexit, it is whether this country is governed by the votes of the people in the ballot box or by the elites.

That is why we have to find a way to get Brexit over the line. I hope that the new Conservative leader can find a form of Brexit that all Conservative MPs can vote for. If he or she cannot, it will not just be a disaster for the Conservative party, but for the country.

Britain goes 215 hours without electricity from coal

As of yesterday afternoon Britain had gone a record 215 hours – and counting - without coal-powered energy. The Conservative government's reforms and investment are ensuring sure we leave our planet in a better state for the next generation. 

Key facts
  • Britain has exceeded the eight-day record set earlier this month for the number of successive hours gone without using coal to generate power. 
  • This year we’ve already reached the major milestone of 1,000 hours without using coal to power our homes and industry. 
  • Last year renewables generated a record amount of electricity, generating 37.1 per cent of the UK’s electricity in 2018 Q4, up from 6.1 per cent in 2010. 

Why this matters

We’re closing in on phasing out coal entirely from our power system by 2025 as our renewable sector goes from strength to strength.

Quote of the day 27th May 2019

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Action to curb plastic pollution

The Environment Secretary has announced action to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds – tackling plastic pollution and ensuring we leave our environment in a better state for future generations. 

Key facts
  • Following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April 2020 – ahead of the EU’s proposal for a ban on these items in 2021. 
  • In England, we use an estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds with many of these ending up in waterways and oceans. 
  • In our response to the consultation published today, over 80 per cent of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, whilst 90 per cent back a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89 per cent back a ban on cotton buds. 
  • We know there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons and the Government will therefore ensure that those that need to use plastic straws for medical reasons can still access them 

Why this matters:

Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life.

I know there will be people reading this who complain that Britain is only a small part of the problem and decry this as a measure that will not have much effect.

I disagree. We are a rich country, we have a duty to fix our contribution to the problem. In the words of a great Conservative thinker,

Quote of the day 26th May 2019

A point very relevant to the question of the terms on which Britain leaves the EU and what our relationship with that body should look like. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Support for new teachers

Thousands of teachers across the country are to receive extra money to encourage and support them during the early years of their classroom careers. 

Key facts
  • Early career maths and physics teachers in the North East, Yorkshire & the Humber and Opportunity Areas will receive a £2,000 incentive as part of a drive to increase rates of retention among teachers of these subjects. 
  • The initiative will further support teachers in the areas benefitting from our £72 million Opportunity Area programme – creating local partnerships to remove obstacles to social mobility. 
  • The pilot, backed by £10 million set aside from last year’s Budget, will test a new way of incentivising maths and physics teachers to remain in the profession during the first five years of their career. 

Why this matters:

The most important thing in education is the teacher at the front of the classroom. Whilst teaching remains a popular career, but we want to make sure teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling proposition and that every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Quote of the day 25th May 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019

The end of May

So yet another Conservative Prime Minister has been pulled down by divisions over Europe.

(The Labour party is, of course, also badly split on the issue.)

We need to stop doing this.

Britain must leave the EU as the electorate voted and people must be willing to make reasonable compromises so that we can get the implementation of the electorate's decision through the House of Commons.

Quote of the day 24th May 2019

"A week is a long time in politics."

(Sir Harold Wilson)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Defence Secretary writes to congratulate Barrow Shipyard workers on their vital role

Penny Mordaunt, the secretary of state for defence, has praised and recognised the work of Barrow shipyard workers past and present who spent the last 50 years helping to protect the UK.

As part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD), Mrs Mordaunt has written an open letter to all the thousands of shipyard workers who have served during the past 50 years recognising their efforts as a ‘vital contribution’ towards the security of the nation.

In the letter Penny Mordaunt wrote that:

“Every day for the past 50 years we have had a submarine continuously patrolling our waters and at this important milestone it’s important to recognise everyone who has played a pivotal role in this, including the thousands of shipyard workers in Barrow in Furness. 

“The region has a long and proud history of shipbuilding, with hundreds of merchant ships, submarines and naval vessels all built in Barrow’s shipyards, including both HMS Vengeance and HMS Victorious and the newest addition to the fleet, the 7,400 tonne Audacious.” 

The letter comes as part of the national recognition of Operation Relentless, which has ensured that  at least one Royal Navy ballistic submarine has been patrolling the world’s oceans, unseen and undetected since April 1969.

Barrow’s shipyard has played a vital role in this by starting construction on the Resolution-class of ballistic submarines in 1963.

By 1969 the UK began CASD with the four Resolution class boats and the shipyard has since been key in the construction of further vessels.

The defence secretary said: “Every single man and woman who works at BAE Systems in Barrow makes a vital contribution to our national security by helping to maintain our nuclear deterrent every day. "And as Defence Secretary I would like to thank them for their continued hard work.”

Quote of the day 23rd May 2019

"Back to square one. Fanatical Remainer MPs refuse to admit they are risking a No Deal Brexit. Fanatical Leaver MPs refuse to admit they are risking Brexit being cancelled. Labour MPs refuse to admit they couldn't care less what happens with Brexit as long as it hurts the Tories."

(Hugo Gye, digital political editor and occasional leader writer at the Sun, tweets a summary of the reasons for the deadlock in parliament.)

Polls now open in the European election

Voting is now open in the elections no leaver wanted and IMHO a majority of those who voted Remain thought also should not have happened - to elect another cohort of British MEPs.

Unfortunately because of a failure of parliament and the EU to agree how Britain should leave we are still a member state of the EU at this time and therefore have a legal duty to hold these elections.

There will be many people who are inclined to stay at home in protest. I fully understand that.

However, there are some truly awful candidates standing in these elections. There are people putting up for election with convictions for mortgage fraud and assault (football hooliganism and political thuggery) people associated with expressions of support for IRA atrocities like the Warrington bomb and with genocide denial, candidates who think it is OK to joke about rape.

In that context, if you stay at home you cannot complain if candidates like that get elected.

I would urge all decent people who have not already voted by post (as I have) to get down to the polling station today before 10pm and vote for whichever slate of decent people is closest to your views.

Here in the North West I voted for the Conservative ticket headed by Sajjad Karim and my fellow Cumbrian resident Kevin Beaty both of whom I know to be decent people who would work hard for this region.

Other people standing in this region include Stephen Yaxley-Lennon who calls himself Tommy Robinson, and the first candidate on the Brexit party list is Claire Fox, formerly of the Revolutionary Communist party, which defended the IRA's Warrington bomb. 

Colin Parry OBE, father of one of the two little boys killed in that attack, has appealed to voters in the North West not to vote to make Claire Fox MEP for Warrington in view of her failure to clearly disassociate herself from past statements about the atrocity which claimed their lives.

If you don't vote, you lost your voice about who is elected to represent you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The pen is mightier than the milkshake ...

I was never very keen on the late Sir Harold Wilson and still less soon on John, later Lord, Prescott. Nor am I a fan of Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage.

But apart from my not agreeing with their politics, all those people have something else in common.

Every one of them is more intelligent than the muppets who threw eggs or milkshakes at them - not that this is a high bar.

The instant you resort to throwing things, you have proved that you don't have the brains to win a debate.

Margaret Thatcher famously said that if your opponents resort to attacking you personally, they only show up their lack of good political arguments.

But throwing eggs or milkshakes is even worse - you have not only signalled that you don't have any good political arguments, you've shown you don't even have the wit to think of a good insult.

If the person you throw the shake at has any political skill they will, if you'll pardon the expression, "milk" the incident for all the sympathy they can get.

The more unpalatable a political candidate is, the more daft it is to throw a milkshake at them. Why put yourself in the wrong, energise their supporters and generate sympathy for them? It is worse than a crime, it is just plain stupid.

Quote of the day 21st May 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

Meeting Highways England

Attended two meetings at County Hall today.

One of them was between county councillors representing Copeland and Highways England to discuss various road issues, and particularly the Moresby Viaduct issue and the proposed Whitehaven Relief Road for the A595.

We kept up the pressure for the Moresby Viaduct issue to be addressed as soon as is consistent with getting a sound, sustainable solution which does not prejudice, or ideally should actually help, with the need for the Relief Road and decent highways access to new developments which Copeland Borough Council wants to build in the area.

With regard to the Relief Road, highways England expects to be able to publish a response to the consultation soon and no later than this summer. We should get confirmation in the Autumn statement whether the Relief Road has been included in "RIS2," the programme of major road works to be completed between 2022 and 2027.

Quote of the day 20th May 2019

"Once a 'smear' used to mean saying or writing something about someone that was essentially untrue. Now it means saying or writing something about someone that is completely true but that they don't want others reminded of."

(Journalist David Aaronovitch on twitter.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

In memoriam: Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary by Purcell.

I attended two funerals this week.

The first, at St James' Whitehaven was for Beatrice Last, a member of the congregation of that church. The second, at Sacred Heart Church, Luton, was for my wife's uncle, John Egan.

This post is memory of two lovely people. Beatrice and Uncle John, Rest in Peace.

Sunday music spot: "Holy is the True Light" by William Harris

Second quote of the day 19th May 2019

"Not leaving EU provides Farage with an historic grievance which will deform our politics for years. The economic cost is worth paying to avoid horrible ruinous paralysing extremism. Democrats have to abide by the ballot box." 

Tweet from Charlie Falconer - yes. that's right, Tony Blair's old flatmate Lord Falconer - getting spectacularly right what his former boss has been getting so egregiously wrong, in response to an article by Phil Collins in the Times

That article, which can be read here, begins as follows:

"Nigel Farage was always destined to be the winner in the great Brexit fiasco. Either Britain leaves the European Union, in which case his political mission is fulfilled, or we do not, in which case his political career is revived. His best and most dangerous days might now be ahead of him."

But it's not just Farage. If we don't deliver what the British people voted for, every conspiracy theorist, everyone who has ever said "If voting changed anything they'd abolish it" and that the establishment would never let the ordinary people make a real change won't just feel vindicated, they will have a point. Every extremist group will be boosted. The result will poison our politics for decades to come.

And to all the individuals and parties, many of them highly intelligent, many of them people whose views on other issues I greatly respect, who think that now we have seen how difficult negotiating Brexit has proved there should be another vote, I say this.

Imagine that the party you support won a general election, attempted to carry out the programme on which is had been elected, and all the people who had supported other political parties were screaming that now we could see what that programme really meant in practice there should be a "People's vote" e.g. a new election to give voters a chance to change their minds.

Would you give the arguments now being advanced for another referendum any consideration if they were put forward to try to overturn a general election which your party had won?

I think we all know that in the vast majority of cases the answer is no.

Even Charlie Falconer can see that we need to leave. It is time for our MPs to find a way to do so.

Quote of the day 19th May 2019

Saturday, May 18, 2019

We need a definition of Anti-Muslim hatred - but not this one

All forms of racism are unacceptable.

There is a worrying rise in Britain and much of the rest of the world in several forms of racism, with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Muslim prejudice, sometimes referred to as Islamophobia, as the two which seem to show the most marked rise in Britain at the moment.

No organisation can afford to be complacent about either and that includes the political parties.

I believe the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Anti-Semitism is very helpful in dealing with prejudice against Jews, which is why I proposed successfully that Cumbria County Council should adopt it.

I welcome the fact that the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has been working on a working definition of Islamophobia with a similar objective. We do need such a definition.

The APPG has published a report titled Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia. It contained the following definition:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” 

In order to tackle anti-Muslim hatred, the APPG urged the “Government, statutory agencies, civil society organisations and principally, British Muslim communities” to adopt this “working definition of Islamophobia”, which emerged from its inquiry.

Certainly this moves us forward: as the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said:

“Any hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage is completely unacceptable."

A report published by Policy Exchange and written by Sir John Jenkins KCMG LVO, with a foreword by the former head of the Equalities commission Trevor Phillips OBE, responded as follows:

"It should be beyond question that anti-Muslim hatred must be tackled with the same determination as any other form of prejudice, bigotry or racism in Britain. The question that matters, however, is whether this initiative will help or hinder that broader effort."

There are a number of organisations and individuals who do indeed think that this definition in its present form is helpful and should be adopted, who include the Labour party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the mayor of London and all five major political parties in Scotland among their number.

However, there are quite a range of other voices including some fairly significant ones who are concerned that, in the words of a letter supported by the National Secular Society among others, the working definition in its present form is not "fit for purpose."

That letter was also signed by a diverse range of 44 campaigners, academics, writers and other public figures. They included representatives of the think tank Civitas, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, the Network of Sikh Organisations and Christian Concern, as well as Professor Richard Dawkins, Pragna Patel, Maajid Nawaz and Peter Tatchell.

Trevor Phillips, in the foreword to Sir John Jenkin' report mentioned about, expressed the concern that instead of protecting Muslims, defining Islamophobia as the APPG does "will actually make life harder for them."

Jenkins himself suggests that

"There is no doubt that the MPs involved had – and have – the best of intentions. Anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is a problem that needs to be addressed both politically, societally and individually. But the proposed definition of Islamophobia is not only inadequate but divisive and potentially damaging to social cohesion." 

There are also serious concerns expressed by senior police officers about the workability of this definition as it currently stands. Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terrorism policing, said the definition would allow suspects to challenge legitimate investigations on the grounds they were Islamophobic.

Basu said the wording was “simply too broad to be effective”.

He said: “It risks creating confusion, representing what some might see as legitimate criticism of the tenets of Islam – a religion – as a racist hate crime, which cannot be right for a liberal democracy in which free speech is also a core value."

“Free speech cannot be an absolute right or freedom to harm, but as it stands this definition risks shutting down debate about any interpretation of the tenets of Islam which are at odds with our laws and customs, which in turn would place our police officers and members of the judicial system in an untenable position.

“Despite the fact it would be non-legally binding, it would potentially allow those investigated by police and the security services for promoting extremism, hate and terrorism to legally challenge any investigation and potentially undermine many elements of counter terrorism powers and policies on the basis that they are ‘Islamophobic’. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Similar concerns were expressed by the Chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC),. Martin Hewitt, who said

“We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it, and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. 

“There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.”

I do not think any responsible government could ignore expressions of concerns like that from senior police officers without further consideration of how the working definition can be improved and made more specific to address these concerns.

Let me stress that there IS a need for a working definition which will catch the incitement of hatred against muslim human beings without allowing the people who are inciting such hatred to claim that they are only criticising a religion. The challenge is to get to a careful definition which hatches those who incite hatred against people without catching legitimate disagreements with Islam, the religion.

It is obvious, by the way, to anyone who has actually read the output of the APPG and not just a few newspaper headlines, that the APPG themselves are well aware of this problem, and have tried to address it. The problem is that a lot of people are not convinced that their proposed definition, in its present form, achieves that objective.

Going forward I would like to see the government talking to the APPG. the muslim communities - because it is critical that the experiences of the muslim communities  must inform the process of defining the problem of prejudice against them - to the police and other stakeholder to try to improve the definition and get it to the point where there is a broad enough consensus that it can be used

Music to relax after campaigning: The Phantom Of The Opera

Quote of the day 18th May 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019

Keeping the streets safe

This week the Offensive Weapons Bill passed by the Conservative government received Royal Assent and it will become law, ensuring police have the powers they need to keep people safe.

Key facts
  • While crime has fallen since 2010, there has been a worrying increase in certain types of violent crime. 
  • That is why we brought forward the Offensive Weapons Bill, which bans the delivery of knives and corrosives to residential addresses, bans the possession of weapons such as zombie knives and knuckle dusters, and creates a new criminal offence of selling corrosive substances to a person under the age of 18. 
  • It also includes new powers enabling police to intervene when someone is suspected of carrying a knife, preventing young people from becoming involved with knife crime in the first place. 

Why this matters

To keep our families, communities and country safe we are making sure the police have the powers they need to keep these dangerous weapons off our streets as we build a safer society for everyone.

Labour's National Grid plans hit pensioners

The Labour party has announced a ridiculous and unaffordable plan to nationalise the National Grid.

Nationalisation has been tried before and failed every time.

The company I work for used to be part of a nationalised industry. At the time it was sold to the public, it was still manufacturing and installing equipment which was two generations out of date.

The railways used to be a nationalised industry called British Rail - which had a worse safety record, a worse reliability record, put in far less investment and delivered a worse service. And today the part of the railways industry which has the worst problems is the part the Blair government re-nationalised.

Whether it was making cars, steel, energy or providing services, nationalised industries have a record of failure.

Labour's plans to nationalise the National Grid would mean more borrowing, higher bills and tax hikes for hardworking families.

Key facts:
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological plan for the state to seize these companies would cost an eye-watering £100 billion and saddle taxpayers with their debts, meaning more borrowing, higher bills and tax hikes would be inevitable. 
  • The Labour plans yesterday wiped nearly £1 billion off the value of the National Grid. most of this cost will not be carried by rich people but ordinary pensioners and ordinary working people - most shares in these countries are not owned by individuals but by pension funds and investment trusts which look after the savings of today's pensioners and future ones.
  • Millions of pounds of that loss was wiped off the value of pension funds. 
  • And as is always the case with Labour there is no plan for how they would pay for this costly programme to take the national grid into state ownership.  

Why this matters

While Labour’s ideological renationalisation plans would hurt hardworking families, the Conservatives are taking practical steps to protect people from unfair bill rises and increasing renewable electricity to a record high.

Stamping out Anti-Semitism in Universities

The Universities Minister is calling on universities to stamp out antisemitism ensuring that there is a safe, welcoming and tolerant environment on UK campuses.

Key facts
  • Universities have a responsibility to ensure students do not face discrimination, harassment or victimisation of any kind and provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. 
  • Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation of the higher education sector and must be protected - so it is unacceptable to oblige certain groups of students to incur costs for security because of their race or religion. 
  • The government is urging universities to advance their efforts to tackle unacceptable religious hatred and are calling on them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 

Why this matters

Our universities should show that they are serious about ensuring their campuses are tolerant environments – by showing moral leadership and adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Quote of the day 17th May 2019

This is why Colin Parry, whose son was one of two young boys murdered by the IRA in the Warrington bomb atrocity, has asked voters in the North West not to back the Brexit party, on whose ticket in this region Claire Fox is the number one candidate. The North West region includes Warrington.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

May meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The next meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will take place on Wednesday 22nd May in the council chamber at County Hall in Kendal at 10.30 am . The meeting will be open to the public.

Copies of all the reports to be presented to the meeting are available on the County Council website here.

The agenda is as follows:

Item 1. Election of Vice-Chair 
To appoint a Vice Chair who shall be a District Council representative for the ensuing year. The Vice Chair shall be appointed by the District Council representatives serving on the Committee.

2. Apologies for Absence 
To receive any apologies for absence.

3. Membership of the Committee 
To note any changes to the membership of the Committee.

4. Disclosures of Interest 
Members are invited to disclose any disclosable pecuniary interest they have in any item on the agenda

5. Exclusion of Press and Public
To consider whether the press and public should be excluded from the meeting during consideration of any item on the agenda.

(They won't be.)

6. Minutes 
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 26 February 2019

7. Committee Briefing Report
To consider a report by the Strategic Policy and Scrutiny Adviser

8. HealthCare for the Future Update 
To consider a report by the Chief Operating Officer, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group.

9. Familiar Faces 
To receive a presentation from North Cumbria Health and Care.

10. Mental Health Services in North and South Cumbria
To consider a joint report by North Cumbria and Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Groups

11. Date of Next Meeting 
To note that the next meeting of the Committee will be held on Thursday 18 July 2019 at 10.30 am at County Offices, Kendal.

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year focuses on body image and the impact it can have on mental health.

·      Body image issues can cause anxieties for many young people in particular, and can lead to mental health conditions.


·      Our long-term plan for the NHS delivers record investment in mental health services – an extra £2.3 billion by 2023-24 – including faster access to help for conditions like eating disorders.


·      There is more to do to ensure that looking after our mental health becomes just as natural as looking after our physical health, and no one ever feels they have to suffer in silence again.


·      We are committed to increasing the share of the NHS budget which is spent on mental health services and making them more accessible, as well as tackling the root causes of mental health conditions.

We are taking action to protect people from concerns about body image:


·      On Tuesday, we launched an awareness campaign on the risks of cosmetic procedures. The campaign has been launched due to concerns about the number of people experiencing serious side effects of cosmetic procedures‎, and encourages people to choose a suitably qualified and professional practitioner for their treatment. New advice will set out the questions people should ask before they undergo any cosmetic procedure. We are also working to explore how to strengthen the regulation of cosmetic procedures and improve standards.


·      On Wednesday, the Mental Health Minister called on social media companies to take action to tackle online bullying. Social media can have a damaging impact on body image. Jackie Doyle-Price said she hoped that abusing people online would become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, and that social media companies would become more vigilant about the content they host.

And we are prioritising mental health support by:


·      Allocating £2.3 billion of our £33.9 billion investment in the NHS to mental health services. This means mental health services will receive a growing share of the NHS budget (NHS England, NHS Long Term Plan, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Setting out in our long-term plan for the NHS how this funding will improve access to mental health services. The plan will improve services for people with common and severe mental health problems, make more care available in the community, boost emergency and inpatient care, and ensure suicide prevention remains a priority (NHS England, NHS Long Term Plan, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Investing in mental health services for young people to ensure they can access support when they need it. We are providing an additional £1.4 billion up to 2020-21 to improve access to mental health services for children and young people, and an additional £300 million over the next three years to deliver the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Green Paper (Hansard, WQ125663, 7 February 2018, link; Hansard, WQ170687, 10 September 2018, link.).


·      Publishing our Online Harms White Paper to protect peoples’ mental health online. Technology can be hugely beneficial, but we must ensure it does not damage peoples’ mental health. Our White Paper sets out the responsibilities of online platforms to protect users (DCMS, Press Release, 8 April 2019, link).


·      Appointing the UK’s first Minister for Suicide Prevention to lead government efforts to cut the number of suicides and overcome the stigma that stops people seeking help. Jackie Doyle-Price will lead a national effort on suicide prevention, bringing together a ministerial taskforce and working with national and local government, experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians and those personally affected by suicide (Prime Minister’s Office, Press Release, 9 October 2018, link).


·      Focussing on addressing mental illness from a younger age, as half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. Our Green Paper will provide designated mental health leads in schools, earlier access to services through the creation of new Mental Health Support Teams, and pilot a new four-week waiting time standard for young people to ensure everyone receives treatment in the right place at the right time (DfE and DHSC, Response to the Select Committee Report on the Green Paper, 25 July 2018, link).