Saturday, August 31, 2019

More money for schools

The Prime Minister has announced that we are boosting schools with an extra £14 billion, levelling up funding per pupil across the country so every child has a world class education.

(This represents an increase of about 10% in real terms funding for schools.

  • We should not accept the idea that there can be winners or losers when it comes to our children’s futures. 
  • That’s why the Conservatives are providing additional funding now and for the future for every school, with those historically underfunded receiving the greatest increase. 
  • Additionally, we have also pledged to meet the £4.5 billion requirement for teachers’ pensions from outside the education budget. This means that every penny of the extra £14 billion will go straight to school and delivering the best educational outcomes for our children. 

We can deliver the change people want, giving every child the world class education they deserve and properly funding our schools – getting this country back on the road to a brighter future. The £14 billion funding boost will mean:

  • Every school will get a real terms funding rise next year. In every part of the country, next year every school will see a real terms rise in their funding. 
  • Secondary schools – every secondary school will receive an increased minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year. 
  • Primary schools – every primary school will get a minimum of £3,750 from 2020-21 and £4,000 per pupil from 2021-22. 
  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities - £700 million extra for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in 2020-21, so every pupil can access the education that is right for them, and none are held back from reaching their potential. 
  • Further education - Further education and sixth form colleges will receive £400 million additional funding to train and teach our young people the skills they need for well-paid jobs in the modern economy. 
  • They will also get and extra £100m to fund the extra pensions provision which this year they had to fund from existing budgets. 

Historically under-funded areas are being prioritised – we will progress the implementation of our National Funding Formula, delivering promised gains in full for areas which have been historically under-funded.

Increasing the schools budget to £52.2 billion by 2022-23 – the funding package for 5-16 schools includes £2.6 billion for 2020-21, £4.8 billion for 2021-22, and £7.1 billion for 2022-23 compared to 2019-20. This will bring the schools budget to £52.2 billion in 2022-23.

Under the Conservatives we’ve seen more children getting a better education:

  • There has been a dramatic improvement in children’s reading making sure they are prepared for their future. 
  • England has risen to joint eighth place in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, up from joint tenth in 2011 and the historic low of 19th under Labour. 
  • Thanks to our phonics reforms, 163,000 more six year olds are on track to become fluent readers compared to 2012 
  • Conservative-led governments have created 921,000 new school places since 2010 as part of the biggest expansion in school places in two generations. 
  • This means we are on track to deliver an extra one million school places nationwide in the decade to 2020 and reverse the reduction of 100,000 school places between 2004 and 2010

Music to relax after campaigning

Some very mixed weather did not prevent Copeland Conservatives from going out survey canvassing in Cleator Moor today. 250 survey forms and reply paid envelopes issued to local residents.

Well done to all Conservatives who were out campaigning in whatever weather today, And here is some appropriate music to relax to:

Cumbria and Lancashire Joint Health Scrutiny

There will be a meeting of the Cumbria and Lancashire Joint Health Scrutiny committee at 10am on Friday 6th September in Committee Room 2 at the Cumbria County Council offices at County Hall in Kendal.

The purpose of this joint committee is to hold the NHS to account on cross-regional health issues affecting both Cumbria and Lancashire.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The Agenda and part one reports are available on the Cumbria County Council website here, and the main items for consideration are:

8. Renal Dialysis Services in Lancashire and South Cumbria

9. Update on Fragile Services at UHMB (University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay)

10. Reconfiguration of Community Beds within the acute hospitals

11. Stroke Services

Quote of the day 31st August 2019

"I don't know enough about the details"

(Sir David Attenborough admits to the News and Star that while he "thinks" he is opposed to the West Cumbria Mining proposals for a new coal mine in Whitehaven, his opposition is not based on a fully-informed knowledge of the "complicated" facts,)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Preparing Britain's ports for Brexit

The Transport Secretary has announced £30 million to upgrade ports in preparation for Brexit, ensuring we are ready to leave the EU on 31 October – whatever the circumstances.

  • The new funding will be spent on upgrades to port infrastructure, road and rail links and building resilience within local government to ensure trade continues to flow smoothly at our ports after Brexit.

  • Ports across England can bid for a share of £10 million for upgrades to enhance capacity, while a further £5 million will be provided to Local Resilience Forums for infrastructure improvements and £15 million will go towards longer-term road and rail link projects to ensure more freight can get where it needs to be faster.

  • This is part of the Government’s £2.1 billion investment to step-up the country’s preparations for leaving the EU, and comes a week after £9 million was announced for local councils and Resilience Forums to support their Brexit planning for major air, land or sea ports.

Why this matters: As we become an outward-facing global trading nation, enhancing our trading hubs is more critical than ever. This investment supports our ports to boost capacity and efficiency, ensuring they’re ready for a successful future after Brexit on 31 October.

Quote of the day 30th August - Tom Harris on Ruth Davidson

"In our highly partisan political culture, where those who support other parties are regarded as enemies who must be defeated rather than people who happen to hold different opinions, it’s easy to forget that democracy only works when voters change their minds and switch their political allegiance between the parties."

"Which is where Ruth Davidson comes in. She did something that few other political leaders – at least in Scotland – even bothered attempting: she appealed not just to her own party’s traditional supporters but to those of other parties."

"On a personal level, as someone from a different political background and tradition to Ruth, I am filled with sadness that this devout champion of the Union has departed the stage. She has always been kind, thoughtful and very, very funny whenever I’ve been in her company. It should not be a weakness in any politician to admit that an opponent is sincere, capable and good. Ruth is all those things and the fact that she has chosen to prioritise her family over her political career proves it. I wish her well."

Three extracts above from a wonderful tribute penned by former Labour MP Tom Harris to Ruth Davidson MSP, who resigned yesterday as leader of the Scottish Conservative party (though not as MSP for Edinburgh Central.)

You can read Tom's article in full on the CAPX site here

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Helping business prepare for Brexit

The Business Secretary is launching a £10 million fund for business organisations and trade associations, ensuring businesses have the support they need as they prepare to leave the EU on 31 October. 

  • For businesses that still feel unprepared for Brexit, the government is determined to do everything possible to ensure they are fully ready. 
  • We know that companies often rely on the wider business community for help and advice with planning, and the Business Readiness Fund will give business groups the necessary tools to engage with this crucial task. 
  • The funding forms part of the £108 million recently announced to promote and support businesses in ensuring they are ready for our departure from the EU. 

Why this matters:

This funding will mean business organisations from all sectors across the country can stand resolutely behind businesses large and small to support them in preparing for, and seizing the opportunities of, leaving the EU.

The Queen's Speech

The Prime Minister has announced that there will be a Queen’s Speech on 14 October, bringing forward a new bold and ambitious legislative agenda: investing in the NHS, reducing violent crime and cutting the cost of living.

  •  Having a new Queen’s Speech will enable us to put forward a fresh domestic programme, while also ensuring that there is good time before and after the European Council for Parliament to further consider Brexit issues. 
  •  If a deal with the EU is forthcoming, Parliament will then have the opportunity to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill required for ratification ahead of leaving the EU on 31 October. 

This has been the longest Parliamentary session in close to 400 years and in recent months one of the least active. Having a Queen’s Speech will enable the Prime Minister and the Government to focus on crucial public priorities – investing in the NHS, reducing violent crime and cutting the cost of living.

Public spending plans for the next year

The Chancellor has announced the Spending Round will take place on Wednesday 4 September, clearing the decks so we can focus on delivering Brexit while supporting our vital public services.

  • The Spending Round will set out the government's our plans to deliver on the Prime Minister’s priorities – to recruit 20,000 more police officers, to improve front-line NHS care and to properly fund our schools. 
  • Thanks to the hard work of the British people over the last decade, we can afford to spend more on people’s priorities – without breaking the rules around what the Government should spend and ensuring we continue to live within our means. 
  • The Spending Round will give departments certainty over their budgets for next year and ensure that we continue to focus relentlessly on making sure we’re ready to leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. 

Why this matters:

By delivering Brexit on 31 October we can focus on supporting our public services and bringing about the change people voted for, getting our country back on the road to a brighter future.

Ruth Davidson MSP

I am deeply sorry to learn that Ruth Davidson MSP has resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservative party.

She has been an inspiration to Conservatives not just in Scotland but throughout the UK.

Among the stories being shared today was the time the car belonging to one of her Scottish Conservative colleagues developed a flat tyre at a key moment in the 2016 elections just after the manifesto launch. Three blokes without a clue what to do watch Ruth Davidson change the tyre in the pouring rain.

I understand that her resignation is due to a mix of reasons both political and personal: sources close to Ms Davidson told the Scottish Sun last night that her decision to resign was not a direct result of yesterday's national political events.

Ruth will be desperately missed and will be a hard act to follow. I very much hope that she will stay involved in national politics.

Conservative leader and PM Boris Johnson tweeted:

"On behalf of everyone in the Conservative & Unionist Party, I want to thank @RuthDavidsonMSP for her wonderful service over the last 8 years.

She has dedicated so much time and energy to the role & has been instrumental in the revival of our electoral fortunes in Scotland.

She should take immeasurable pride in the pivotal role she played during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, where her passionate support for our Union was crucial to the result.

I will miss the incredible leadership she has given to our Party in Scotland, but am delighted she will continue to use her passion & dedication to make the case for Scotland’s place in the UK from the backbenches & beyond. I wish Ruth, Jen & Finn all the best for the future."

I too wish Ruth and her family all the best for the future.

Quote of the day 29th August 2019

"The response from faux-left Remainers has perhaps been the most infuriating – and certainly the most delusional. Corbynistas are protesting in Westminster tonight. Some have even called for a general strike, to the end of crushing the votes of millions of workers.

Today activists invoked the Peterloo massacre, and the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, as they called people out on to the streets. Clearly, they don’t realise that in this particular battle for democracy they’re on the side of the other guys. The ones with sabres and tear gas."

(Tom Slater, Deputy Editor of Spiked Online, from an article "Who will defend democracy" in which he argues that it was a mistake to prorogue parliament for the conference season but that the anti-Brexit critics of the decision "do not have right on their side. In fact they are far, far worse." )

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Parliament prerogation music spot “Insanae et Vanae Curae” (Haydn

As the entire British political class throws the most monumental hissy fit at the government arranging for parliament to take a break from week two of September to week two of October (exactly the season when parliament always takes a break) the obvious choice for a music spot for the day is Haydn's "Insanae et vanae curae."

The words of this musical masterpiece, which seems particularly appropriate this evening, can be roughly translated into English as follows:

"A crazed and hopeless passion invades our minds, 
 Again and again madness fills our hearts and robs us of hope." 
 "How can it profit you, O mortal, to seek for earthly riches but take no thought of Heaven?" 
 "Yet if God is for you, all things are possible for you."

Revitalising Britain's High Streets

This week the Prime Minister has announced that 50 more towns will share £1 billion of funding to re-energise their high street and keep it a vibrant heart of the community.

  • The Prime Minister has expanded the Future High Streets Fund, confirming that another 50 towns in England will be given a share of £1 billion to redevelop their high streets. 
  • This funding is part of the Prime Minister’s £3.6 billion Towns Fund announced last month which will ensure that towns are getting the improved transport and broadband connectivity that they need to create more jobs. 

Why this matters

With our towns and high streets facing challenges, the Conservatives are committed to re-energising these communities, ensuring that they remain vibrant places where people want to go, meet and spend their money.

Queen prorogues parliament ...

Order signed today proroguing parliament from between the 9th and 12th September, to return on Monday 14th October.

Calm down dears! Government calls normal break for Party conference season

It is quite normal for government to put forward a recess in late September and early October for the party conference season and to prepare for a new session of parliament including a Queen's Speech.

Today the government announced that they have asked HM the Queen to proporgue parliament so that it will not sit during approximately the period when it would normally be in recess, e.g. from the second sitting week in September until Monday 14th October.

This is not significantly different from what happened in previous years. Last year parliament did not sit between 13th September and 9th October. In 2017 parliament did not sit between 14th September and 9th October. I'm grateful to Stephen Pollard for tweeting this list of recent parliamentary breaks:

I don't recall anyone accusing the government of staging a coup when they arranged for a similar parliamentary recess last year or the year before, but British politics has entered a strange through-the-looking-glass world where everyone searches the actions of their political opponents for reasons to be outraged and all too often finds them whether they are really there or not.

As I understand it the Commons will lose all of three sitting days - the 8th, 9th and 10th of October - on this timetable compared with what had previously been accepted.

As Iain Dale has pointed out,

"If the Government were committing as The Speaker has just said 'a constitutional outrage', they would be proroguing Parliament until November 1. If that happened there really would be grounds for complaint. It isn't, so there really aren't."

Douglas Carswell put it even more crisply

"Parliament? Prorogued? At this time of year? 
They'll be having Christmas in December next."

Unfortunately, and particularly after the discussion about the possibility of shutting down parliament during the Conservative leadership election, the announcement of the conference break has been interpreted through a prism of catastrophist expectations and too many people who ought to have known better have gone completely overboard.

As Iain wrote in the article linked to above, if the government had proposed a dramatically longer break than normal rather than an extra three days, e.g. that parliament would not sit until after the beginning of November so that the UK would leave the EU while parliament was not sitting and with no opportunity to agree any deal, then the sort of hyperbole we are getting today might have been more justified.

They're not. it isn't.

Calm down dears!

The amount of hysteria about this announcement would be extremely funny were I not concerned that the level of inflammatory comments on just about all sides is in danger of doing further damage to trust in politics and encouraging people to take ever-more-extreme positions - as if we didn't have enough of that already.,

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

The next meeting of the County Council's local committee for Copeland consisting of all the county councillors for Copeland Borough divisions will take place on Monday 2nd September 2019 at 10.15 am at Ingwell Hall, Westlakes Science park.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The full agenda and supporting documents can be found here, but the items on the agenda which may be of particular interest include

1) Review of traffic speeds in several areas of Copeland and proposed action

2) Parking and traffic orders: results of informal public consultation on fifteen proposed changes to the Traffic Regulation Orders for Copeland, of which is proposed that two should be dropped and the remainder proceed to formal consultation.

The proposed changes consist of a weight restriction on the U4009 at Low Moresby, turning restrictions at Sellafield main gate and changes to on street parking orders at Millom, Haverigg, Lowca, Egremont, St Bees and Cleator Moor.

3) Highways devolved budget and capital programme

4) Area Planning report, which includes an item about the proposed relocation of Whitehaven Library on which I would expect some discussion about consultation with service users and Whitehaven Town Council.

Quote of the day 28th August 2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

More ultra-fast broadband for Rural Areas

The government is taking action to accelerate rollout of the latest 5G technology in rural areas so we can unite Britain by connecting countryside communities. 
  • We are launching a £30 million fund which will see up to ten rural locations chosen to run innovative trials of the newest 5G technology to stimulate investment, drive business growth, encourage innovation and connect people. 
  •  We are also looking at how we can simplify planning rules to improve rural mobile coverage. 

Why this matters:
  • Reliable and fast broadband is essential to the economic survival of rural communities: without it the opportunities for local businesses to keep up with the market will vanish and the flight of young people to better connected parts of the country will accelerate.
  • By ensuring that every part of the country receives the next generation of 5G technology, we will boost local growth, unite our regions and bring the country back together.

Quote of the day 27th August 2019

Monday, August 26, 2019

Helping children in the world's conflict zones

At the G7 yesterday, the Prime Minister announced £90 million of UK funding to help ensure education for 600,000 children living in conflict.

·       Innocent children suffer the most from the brutal reality of life in the world’s most dangerous countries, and girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school if they live in conflict areas.

·       This funding brings us one step closer to ensuring that every girl in the world gets twelve years of education.

·       The Prime Minister has also called on G7 countries to dedicate more of their aid budget to education, which currently accounts for less than 2 per cent of global humanitarian aid.

Why this matters

All children should have a chance to succeed – no matter where they are born. It is only through equipping the adults of tomorrow with learning and skills that we will break this cycle of instability.

Boris in Biarritz

This bank holiday weekend the Prime Minister is attending the G7 Summit, delivering the message that Britain is an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation. 

  •  G7 leaders are meeting in Biarritz at a critical moment for the world and for Britain, as we face unprecedented global challenges. 
  •  Britain will be an energetic partner on the world stage, standing up for liberty, democracy, the rule of law, equality and human rights – the ideals that we share with our friends and allies. 
  •  The Prime Minister has met with President Trump and discussed how Brexit presents many opportunities for deepening our already robust economic and commercial relationship, including a comprehensive trade agreement. 

Why this matters:

As we leave the European Union, Britain will remain at the heart of the alliances that span the world. And we will continue to use the breadth of our expertise in diplomacy, defence and development to uphold and safeguard the global order on which peace and prosperity depends.

Bank Holiday music spot: Bach's Concerto for Violin & Oboe in c minor

Quote of the day 26th August 2019

"I'm 58 and the only hill I'm over is the one I hiked last weekend"

(Carol Vorderman, suggesting that the abilities of older people are too often overlooked.) 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

England win Third Test with stunning comeback

Congratulations to England on their astonishing comeback in the third Ashes test at Headingley, winning the match by one wicket to level the series at one match won for each side with two matches to go.

If Australia had won they would have made certain of retaining the Ashes by going two-nil up, making it impossible for England to move ahead of them even if they won both the remaining matches.

Up there with the top Ashes comebacks of all time - third Test at Headlingley (from having betting odds of 500:1 against at one point) and fourth at Edgbaston in 1981 by the Brearley/Botham/Willis side.

Quote of the day 25th August 2019

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: Telemann: Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Trumpet

Well done all those who have been campaigning today or otherwise talking to residents on the doorstep.

I was canvassing with and for the Conservative candidate for the Penrith South by-election for Eden District Council, Helen Fearon. This by-election is taking place in a ward where the margin in May this year was just 14 votes, so everything to play for!

Great response on the doorstep. 

Well done also to Copeland Tories who were out today in Bransty.

For everyone who was campaigning, surveying residents' opinions or otherwise out on the stump today, here is something to relax to: George Philip Telemann's Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings, TWV 53:D5

Strengthening our NHS

The NHS is always there for us – free at the point of use for everyone in the country – and truly showcases the very best of Britain

That’s why the Prime Minister has made it his immediate task to make sure frontline services have the funding they need, to make a real difference to the lives of NHS staff, and above all, of patients.

It’s time to make sure the NHS receives the funds it needs, to continue being the best healthcare service in the world. Getting our country back on the road to a brighter future by:

  • Upgrading 20 hospitals – ensuring that money for the NHS really does get to the front line. We’ve committed an extra £1.8 billion for the NHS – including £850 million for 20 hospitals – to ensure front-line services have the funding they need, supporting doctors, nurses, and of patients. 
  • Improving treatment for patients by injecting £250 million into artificial intelligence within the NHS. The government is are setting up a National Artificial Intelligence Lab to ensure people with conditions such as cancer and dementia can receive the latest treatments and truly personalised care.

Under the Conservatives we’ve protected our NHS:

  • Providing an extra £33.9 billion cash for the NHS by 2023-24 and ensuring this funding reaches the frontline. The five-year budget settlement is the biggest cash boost for the NHS ever.
  • Making sure our NHS has the staff it needs to continue delivering world class care. We are increasing doctor and nurses training places by a quarter, one of the biggest expansions in NHS history, and are training 15,000 GPs between 2015 and 2020. There are now over 17,550 more doctors than in May 2010, and over 17,000 more nurses on our wards. 

Jeremy Corbyn cannot be trusted to fund the NHS:

  • Labour offered less money for the NHS. Labour’s manifesto committed 2.2 per cent more a year, which they said would make the NHS ‘the envy of the world’. This is much less than the 3.4 per cent a year.increase which the Conservatives are delivering
  • The NHS in Wales has been underfunded by Labour. HM Treasury figures show that health spending in England increased by 22.6 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18, but only increased by 17.4 per cent in Wales over the same time period. If it had increased at the same rate, NHS Wales would have over £315 million more to spend. 

Our NHS is not for sale.

As the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have repeatedly made clear, the NHS is not on the table in trade talks.

Just as Labour always claims that their opponents will destroy the NHS, those who hate free trade always claim that whatever trade treaty is under consideration will mean selling off the NHS. Both claims have always turned out to be wrong.

Before the vote to leave the EU, the far left and some on the Leave side claimed that the proposed EU and USA trade treaty, TTIP, would mean selling off NHS assets to US companies. That was nonsense then.

Now the Labour party and some ultra-Remainers are recycling the same tired old scaremonger about any UK-USA trade treaty. That is nonsense now.

Quote of the day 24th August 2019

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Thin Blue line, continued

Today Wallingford, the home town of the late PC Mark Harper, paid a special tribute to the policeman who was killed in the line of duty last week, and was remembered in places all around Britain by a minute's silence.

Homes and businesses throughout the town displayed blue ribbons, representing "The Thin Blue Line" as a mark of respect.

Boris meets Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

This week the Prime Minister has met with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron. He has made clear that

  • Britain will be leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances. No ifs, no buts.
  • We would prefer to leave with a deal and we will work in an energetic and determined way to get that better deal. 
  • This week the Prime Minister has written to Donald Tusk making clear the Government’s position that the backstop must be abolished. 
  • If it is not possible to reach a deal we will have to leave with no deal. The government is are turbocharging preparations, retooling government and making sure all necessary funding is made available. We will be ready by 31 October. 

Why this matters:

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will implement the decision of the British electorate in the referendum and leave the EU by 31 October. We will get our country back on the road to a brighter future

Hospital Food

Today the government has launched a review into hospital food to make sure a hospital meal helps, not hinders, the patient’s recovery. 

  • Since entering Downing Street the Prime Minister has made it very clear that his government will make sure our world-class NHS has everything it needs to continue providing the very best front-line care. 
  • This root-and-branch review will guarantee hospitals serve nutritional, tasty and fresh meals that will not only aid patient recovery, but also fuel staff and visitors as they care for loved ones and the vulnerable. 
  • Restaurateur Prue Leith CBE will act as an advisor to the review which will establish new national quality standards for the food served to staff, patients and visitors. 

Why this matters:

This review will ensure our NHS remains the standard-bearer for healthy choices, as it works unstintingly to improve the nation’s well-being.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2019

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A minute's silence at 11am tomorrow to honour PC Andrew Harper

Thames Valley Police Force has announced it will be holding a minute's silence at 11am tomorrow (August 23 2019) to pay tribute to their fallen colleague, Andrew Harper, who was killed in the line of duty last week while responding to reports of a burglary near Sulhamstead on the A4

 A statement read:

"We will be holding a one minute silence across the force tomorrow (23/8) at 11am in memory of PC Andrew Harper.

 "Please be aware that these are private events and we kindly ask that the privacy of our officers/staff is respected across the force."

Other police forces (including here in Cumbria) and individuals will be joining in.

The thin blue line - an ex-copper writes

Britain is very fortunate in the quality of the vast majority of our police officers.

Any organisation as large as the police will sometimes make mistakes and the quality of leadership is still paying the price for the consequences of the lamentably successful attempt by Blair's "New Labour" project to introduce politically correct attitudes from the top down into every organisation they could reach.

Nevertheless the dedication and bravery of the vast majority of front-line police officers is amazing and far better than we probably deserve considering how they are all too often treated.

It's not a safe job. May police officers have laid down their lives in the line of duty.

Here in Cumbria we remember PC Bill Barker from Egremont, a hero who lost his life during an episode of flooding while warning motorists that a  bridge was unsafe and fell victim to the very danger he was warning people against.

As one of my school classmates pointed out on a recent post on this blog, another of our contemporaries at St Albans School, Francis Mason, grew up to become a policeman and died tragically young while bravely trying to prevent a bank robbery.

There is a very good piece in the Spectator by Rory Geoghegan who used to be a policeman but is now head of criminal justice at the Centre for Social Justice about the stresses and strains faced by police officers.

You can read it here.

Review of HS2

Yesterday the government announced and independent review of the HS2 (High Speed Rail phase 2) plan in order to obtain clear advice on the best way forward in respect of this project. 

  • The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits. 
  •  Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide us with clear advice on the future of the project. 
  • The final report will be sent by the autumn and inform our decisions on next steps for the project. 

Why this matters:

This review will provide the evidence to ensure Britain is investing in projects that deliver value for money and the best results for people across the country.

Good luck to all students collecting GCSE results today

Best wishes to all the thousands of students who get their GCSE results today.

Congratulations to those who have done well. Hope all of you, whether you have got the results you hoped for or not, find a positive way forward for the future.

Quote of the day 22nd August 2019

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Another Boris critic admits he's got something right ..

This morning my quote for the day was a reference and link to an article by estwhile Boris Johnson critic Bruce Anderson, "Was I wrong about Boris?"

At the end of the day I'm posting a link to an article by another Johnson critic, Charlotte Henry, who has found a subject on which she does agree with him.

It's called "On vaccines, Boris Johnson has hit the nail on the head" and you can follow a link to it by clicking on the title.

Midweek music spot: Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute


I had heard this piece of music sung on its own many times before I actually went to see the opera "The Magic Flute."
However, my German was not nearly good enough to have picked up what the Queen of the Night is actually saying in this area.

When I did go to see the opera and found out what the words mean, it was, as the author and composer intended, a pretty major shock.

 This very powerful performance has English subtitles. If you already know the story, or are are otherwise not worried about a "spoiler" telling you about a pretty major story development, I can recommend this performance.

If you are not already familiar with the plot of the story and might want to see it at some point in the future without advance knowledge, I would advise against watching the video clip.

Boost for hospices

The Prime Minister has announced a £25 million cash boost for hospices, alleviating the everyday pressures faced on the frontline and ensuring they are able to continue their vital work supporting people at the end of their lives.

  •  This additional funding will protect hospices and palliative care services which support around 200,000 in the UK each year, helping to keep them open and improve the quality of end of life care, ensuring people are able to die as comfortably as possible. 
  •  The money will also support the sector by relieving workforce pressures as well as introducing new services – such as out-of-hours support, respite care and specialist community teams. 

Why this matters

End of life care is vitally important, as our NHS is committed to caring for everyone from cradle to grave. This cash boost will protect hospices and palliative care services so people across the country will have the best, most personalised and dignified choices when they die.

Quote of the day 21st August 2019

"Myself, along with Matthew Parris, Max Hastings and Simon Heffer are proud, stiff-necked characters who would never make concessions to secure consensus and who certainly do not write to be wrong. 

Yet in recent months, there has been agreement, at least on one crucial point: we have vied with each other to pour boiling oil on Boris. We all insisted that a Johnson administration would quickly disintegrate into risibility and chaos, exposing the country to manifold perils. 

Well, that has not happened. It may be that we were all wrong. I had assumed that although Boris wanted the self-aggrandisement of power, he would not move beyond ‘to be’, because he would have no idea what to do. 

That turned out to be nonsense. He had prepared for office. From the first moment, he displayed Montgomery’s favourite attribute: grip."

(Bruce Anderson, from a Spectator article, "Was I wrong about Boris?" Spoiler alerts - he concedes that the answer may well be "Yes.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

More support for Young People's mental health

The government is providing £3.3 million to support more young people with their mental health, as part of our plan to boost frontline NHS services.

  • The government has announved that it will provide £3.3 million to expand 23 local projects across England supporting children and young people’s mental health. 
  •  Thousands of young people will benefit from new mental health support including counselling, mentoring and wellbeing programmes in their communities. 
  •  The projects supported by this money have an emphasis on improving access to support outside of NHS services, including for groups such as LGBT young people or those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. 

Why this matters:

Ensuring young people have access to good mental health support can help them to thrive later in life. That’s why we are transforming local mental health care – backed by an extra £2.3 billion a year through the NHS Long Term Plan.

Borrowdale Road, Mirehouse to close at the end of August for carriageway repairs

As part of Cumbria County Council's action to fix potholes and repair roads in poor condition, there will be repair work coming up later this month in another road in my division.

Borrowdale Road in Mirehouse, Whitehaven will be closed temporarily for about three days from 27th August 2019 to allow Cumbria Highways to carry out carriageway patching works.

The road will be closed from its junction with Skiddaw Street extending in a westerly direction for a distance of about 100 metres.

 Alternative Route

A way for pedestrians and dismounted cyclists will be maintained at all times and a suitable alternative route for vehicles will be signed and available via Derwentwater Road, Meadow Road and Skiddaw Road.

Quote of the day 20th August 2019

"This headline is completely false. And it is scare mongering to suggest that this is government policy.

✅ The State Pension age is 68 which is fair, sustainable and affordable for all generations. 

👍 This Government is helping millions of people enjoy a secure retirement."

The above quote comes from Amber Rudd, responding to reports of  a think-tank recommendation that the retiring age should be raised to 75 which was wrongly presented by left-wing newspapers and some Labour politicians as if it were a Conservative policy.

It is not.

I quoted David Brin the other day - see box below. To have any chance of finding imaginative and original solutions to your problems you will need to consider a wide range of ideas, including some ideas which, when you do look at them, you will conclude are ridiculous.

The idea of raising the retirement age to anything remotely like 75 in the sort of timescale suggested by that think-tank report is a classic example of such a ridiculous idea.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A new police covenant

The Home Secretary has announced measures to crack down on violent crime, and plans for a new police covenant to ensure that the law acts as the deterrent it should be, to keep our streets safe.

  • The government is are accelerating plans to establish a Police Covenant, ensuring that brave officers who serve the county get the support and respect they so richly deserve. 
  • Earlier this week, the government published draft guidance to underpin new knife crime prevention orders, which will give the police an additional power to help steer vulnerable people away from serious violence. 

 Why this matters

This Government will always give the police the support, resources and powers they need – including recruiting 20,000 new officers over the next three years and empowering them to use stop and search.

Vaccination saves lives

Vaccination has been one of the most successful measures to prevent premature death in the history of medicine. That's not just my opinion, it is that of the NHS and most doctors.

It is a tragedy to see that Measles cases are increasing in the UK.

This is the wholly avoidable return of a very unpleasant disease which kills children, and it is happening mainly because of a drop in vaccination levels which in turn has been caused mainly by misleading nonsense spread by supporters of the anti-vaccination delusion (and by Russian bots.)

There are some people who for genuine medical reasons should not have particular vaccinations at particular times, If in doubt you should always consult your GP. But for the vast majority of people the benefits of vaccination massively outweigh the trivial risks involved.

That's why the Prime Minister has ordered urgent action to improve the number of children and young people receiving life-saving vaccinations, halting the spread of infectious diseases.

  • There has been a small decline in the uptake of the measles vaccine in recent years, meaning the UK has lost its ‘measles free’ status with the World Health Organisation, three years after we eliminated the virus.
  • The Prime Minister has called for health leaders to renew their efforts to improve uptake and has tasked the Department for Health and Social Care to deliver a comprehensive strategy to address the issue in the Autumn.
  • The government is also calling on social media companies to take decisive action to tackle misleading information online and the Prime Minister has called a summit of social media companies, to ensure they take the necessary steps to remove antivax misinformation.

Why this matters:

As part of the plan to boost frontline NHS services, the government is working with primary and community care providers to halt the spread of infectious treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.

Remembering the William Pit disaster

This week has seen the 72nd anniversary of the terrible disaster at William Pit in Whitehaven which killed 104 miners in August 1947.

The explosion which hit the mine that month also made 89 women widows and left 230 children without a father.

I remember attending the 60th anniversary commemoration in 2007 when four thousand people walked in procession from St Nicholas's gardens to the site of the former mine.

This was very far from being the only terrible disaster to hit Whitehaven during the years of coal mining. It was the worst of fourteen explosions at that mine, but there were also disasters at the other mines in the town, and in particular one at Wellington Pit in 1910 was even worse.

The Whitehaven coal field suffered many disasters and innumerable smaller accidents. It has been estimated that over 1700 men, women, and children lost their lives while mining coal in the Whitehaven collieries.

The saddest spot in Whitehaven is the memorial in St Nicholas' gardens to all the children who died while working in the town's coal mines.

Between 1880 and 1910, over 1000 fatalities occurred every year in British coal mines. An average of four miners were killed and 517 injured every day over that period.

In 1910 the national fatality figure rose to 1818 killed. Of these, 501 died in explosions, 658 through falls of ground, and 286 through haulage accidents.

The explosion of firedamp at Wellington Pit, Whitehaven in 1910, killed 136 men and boys, and remains Cumbria’s worst mining accident.

It is important to remember our history. Not least because if we remember he dangers which have tragically claimed so many lives we are more likely to be on our guard to prevent such tragedies from being unnecessarily repeated.

Quote of the day 19th August 2019

"Protectionism almost always ends up making the protected industry weaker and less able to compete against foreign imports... 

Instead of protectionism, we should call it destructionism."

(Ronald Reagan, 1985)

Reagan also said in one of his last broadcasts as President:

"In recent years, the trade deficit led some misguided politicians to call for protectionism, warning that otherwise we would lose jobs. But they were wrong again. In fact, the United States not only didn’t lose jobs, we created more jobs than all the countries of Western Europe, Canada, and Japan combined. The record is clear that when America’s total trade has increased, American jobs have also increased. And when our total trade has declined, so have the number of jobs.

Part of the difficulty in accepting the good news about trade is in our words. We too often talk about trade while using the vocabulary of war. In war, for one side to win, the other must lose. But commerce is not warfare. Trade is an economic alliance that benefits both countries. There are no losers, only winners. And trade helps strengthen the free world.

Yet today protectionism is being used by some American politicians as a cheap form of nationalism, a fig leaf for those unwilling to maintain America’s military strength and who lack the resolve to stand up to real enemies — countries that would use violence against us or our allies. Our peaceful trading partners are not our enemies; they are our allies. We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends — weakening our economy, our national security, and the entire free world — all while cynically waving the American flag. The expansion of the international economy is not a foreign invasion; it is an American triumph, one we worked hard to achieve, and something central to our vision of a peaceful and prosperous world of freedom."

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The problem with A levels - a former headmaster writes

There is a thought-provoking piece on the CAPX website about the issues with A levels and the focus of higher education in Britain by former Headmaster John Claughton.

Among his concerns are the "rapid, massive, and deeply damaging rise in unconditional offers" and more generally, that the UK post-16 education system is very highly specialised to an extent which he argues is too great.

Claughton writes:

"Another, more worrying trend has emerged in recent years. Although A-levels were invented by universities as the criterion of entry, there has been a rapid, massive, and deeply damaging rise in unconditional offers. In 2019, 38% of all offers made through UCAS took this form, whereas five or six years ago such offers barely existed. This explosive growth merely reflects the need, if not desperation, for universities to fill their spaces. 

So, in too many cases A-level performance has become less significant than the predicted grades which schools put onto UCAS forms. As a former Head, I have put in those grades a thousand times and I know it’s a nonsense."

I heard a speaker from the new regulator interviewed on the radio on this subject while, topically, I was actually driving my daughter to her former school for the last time to pick up her A-level results.

She argued that there is sometimes a case for unconditional offers but there are concerns at the number, on the proportion based on predicted grades rather than those already achieved, and particularly at the way "conditional unconditional offers" are used to get students to go to universities which might otherwise not have been their first choice.

Yes, I know that "conditional unconditional offer" is a tautology, but it refers to a real and very common situation where a university tells an applicant that they can have an unconditional offer provided they accept it quickly and make the university concerned their first choice.

This is an abuse of the system and if it continues some kind of cap on unconditional offers based on predicted grades and a ban on this kind of "conditional unconditional offers" may be necessary.

Claughton also expresses the concern that at a time when in his opinion there is more demand for joint honours and a greater degree of ability to work across different specialties, the level of specialism in UK universities

"is no longer fit for purpose in an increasingly interdisciplinary world."

I'm not as convinced that this accurately describes what's going on in all UK Universities - it certainly doesn't fit the Higher Education establishment which which I am most familiar, the University of Bristol, on which I have served on University Court for a great many years.

However, he does describe a potential problem which needs to be avoided and hence I would recommend his article, which you can read here.

Leave Harry and Meghan alone

It seems impossible at the moment to pick up a national newspaper or spend any significant amount of time on mainstream or social media without finding some childish attack on or ridiculous and highly dubious "story" about Prince Harry or his wife.

Can't believe that I'[m the only person who's fed up with it.

Leave them alone.

Sunday Music Spot: Vivaldi's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (1st movement)

Sunday reflection: the fate of Christians in the Middle East

Not all that long ago there were a wide range of religions and cultures in the Middle East.

These included Christian and Jewish communities which had been there for thousands of years.

In the last couple of decades, thanks to the barbarism of DA'ESH (the self-styled "Islamic State" caliphate) and other extremists this is ceasing to be the case.

Five years ago there were more than 15,000 Christians in Mosul, the third largest city in IRaq, and their community had been there for 1,700 years.

Then DA'ESH arrived and gave these who didn't flee three choices - concert to Islam, pay a "Jirga" tax, or die. Most fled. Since the liberation of Mosul Only about forty have returned.

Jews, Bahai's and those Muslims who belong to the "wrong" traditions, such as Ahmadi Muslims, have also faced persecution.

"Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, if not the oldest Church in the world, is perilously close to extinction" according to a speech made by Bashar Warda, Archbishop of Irbil in  Iraqi Kurdistan in London in May.

"Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom". 

Warda asked Britain's political class,

"Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us?"

A powerful article on the issue can be found here.

Any civilised society should protect freedom of religion (including, for the avoidance of doubt, the right not to believe in any faith, a right which is also in danger in the Middle East, where in some countries being charged with atheism can carry the death penalty.)

There is no easy way to deal with this problem but I believe the West, including Britain, should give a higher priority to putting diplomatic pressure on those states which allow or encourage any form to religious persecution to desist from doing so.

Quote of the day Sunday 18th August 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Alternative Saturday music spot: the Bach version

I have never been able to decide whether I prefer Vivaldi's Concerto for four violins in B minor, (RV 580) as the composer originally wrote it, or the alternative version which Johann Sebastian transcribed into A Minor and set for four harpsichords.

I really like them both. So that you can compare, here is Bach's version, the concerto for 4 harpsichords (BWV 1065.)

Saturday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto for 4 violins

This is the piece which Bach subsequently rearranged and transposed for four harpsichords in its original form as composed by Antonio Vivaldi:

Gosforth Show and St Bees Flower show

Spent this morning at the excellent Gosforth Show just off the A595 between Gosforth and Seascale, on the Copeland Conservatives' tombola stall which was raising money both for party funds and for a local charity.

Despite yesterday's vile weather it has been absolutely beautiful in Gosforth and indeed most of West Cumbria today and the field didn't get too sodden so the show is going really well.

On the way home my wife and I called at the St Bees Flower show which is being held in the sports hall at St Bees School.

Two great events both of which are, if you're interested, still open this afternoon.

Quote of the day 17th August 2019

"Those who’ve said privately they could never face making Jeremy Corbyn prime minister should explain how this wheeze is supposed to work.

Are you banking on him not getting a majority after a confidence vote then someone else steps in? And he goes along with that? 

Get real. 

Or do you genuinely want to make him caretaker prime minister but it’s ok because it’s only for a few weeks? 

Except it’s not is it. 

For the 2nd referendum plan to work you have to hope he wins the general election and stays as PM.

And even if you convince yourself it’s worth giving this gaslighting racist regime the keys to Number 10 to stop Brexit, you really expect these serial liar hard left Brexiteers to honour their 2nd referendum pledge as they smash up the country? 

For God’s sake, wake up."

(John Woodcock, Independent MP for Barrow and Furness, who resigned from Labour because he could not stomach supporting Jeremy Corbyn as PM, explains why he still can't stomach the idea as he shreds the proposal for a "government of national unity" headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

There are many things on which I don't agree with John Woodcock but he is both right and brave on this point - a "caretaker" government headed by Jeremy Corbyn would be highly dangerous for Britain, more so than a "no deal" Brexit, and cannot be assumed to be temporary.)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Brendan O'Neill on the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre

Brendan O'Neill has an interesting take on the contemporary relevance of  today's 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre which you can read at Spiked here.

He argues that those in the political elite who are trying to stop Brexit are showing the same contempt for the views of the electorate as a whole as the people who sent in the cavalry showed two centuries ago.

PC Andrew Harper RIP

Andrew Harper, a police constable with Thames Valley police, was murdered while protecting the community last night. A police statement said PC Harper, who was from the Roads Policing Unit based in Abingdon, was "killed while performing his duties."

PC Harper was 28 years old and leaves a widow to whom he had been married for just four weeks.

Ten young men aged between 13 and 30 have been arrested in connection with his death.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted he was "deeply shocked and appalled" by what happened to PC Harper.

Mr Johnson added that the officer's death was "the most powerful reminder that police officers up and down the country put themselves at risk every single day to keep us safe".

Thoughts and prayers will be with his soul and his wife and family today.

Rest in Peace.

An easy scam to spot.

Just had a fraudulent phone call from the world's most dozy crooks, with a recorded voice claiming to be ringing with a message from "British Telecom."

They don't appear to have noticed that British Telecommunications PLC retired that brand name at the start of the 1990's, nearly thirty years ago, in favour of "BT" although the old name is still trademarked so nobody else can legitimately use it.

So if you get a phone call from anyone claiming to be from "British Telecom" hang up at once: it's a scam.

Quote of the day 16th August 2019

"Darwinian adaptation to environment applies not only to nature but also to society. Just as you don’t find eagles living in the ocean or fish living on mountain tops, so you don’t find leftists concentrated where their ideas have to stand the test of performance." 

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Ensuring medical supplies

The governments' preferred option is to leave the EU with a deal.

However, whatever happens, there must and will be safe and secure supplies of medicines

That's why the government is establishing an express freight service to ensure the supply of medicines and medical supplies into the country remains uninterrupted, as part of preparations to leave the EU by 31 October whatever the circumstances.

  • The Health Minister is strengthening our preparations for Brexit by October 31 with an express freight service to deliver medicines and medical products into the country within 24-72 hours. 
  • We will ensure that when we leave the EU at the end of October our frontline services are fully prepared, which is why we are bolstering our already extremely resilient contingency plans. 
  • The new freight service will support existing plans such as building buffer stocks of medicines and medical products, procuring additional warehouse capacity and supporting companies to get ready to meet new customs and border requirements. 

Why this matters:

We are making all necessary preparations to make sure we are ready to leave the EU by 31 October, whatever the circumstances, and this new service will ensure frontline medical services are fully prepared.

Congratulations to all students who passed their A-levels

More than three hundred thousand A level students, mostly in their late teens, find out their A level results today.

Congratulations to all those who passed.(I gather the overall pass rate remains the same as last year at 97.6% for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

Commiserations to all who did less well than they had hoped.

Best wishes to everyone in both categories as they look to start higher education courses or start their working careers.

Quote of the day 15th August 2019

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Asymmetric Money Illusion

It is more than eighty years since John Maynard Keynes, writing in his seminal book "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," popularised the term "Money Illusion" which had been coined by Irving Fisher.

It refers to the fallacy of treating the nominal value of a sum of money or level of income as equal to its' purchasing power.

The reality is that in a time of inflation, even relatively low inflation of about 2.8% such as Britain is experiencing at the moment, a fixed income will be depreciating in value.

It is bizarre that there seems to be limited understanding of this, as the childish and idiotic nature of most of the discussion on news programmes today about rail fare increases equal to the RPI demonstrate.

In fact what we have is asymmetric money illusion.

There is virtually no adult in the whole of Britain who is too stupid to realise that if you have inflation and prices are rising, then unless your income rises at least fast enough to keep pace with that inflation you will be worse off in real terms.

What baffles me is that although just about everyone understands this, it seems that even supposedly intelligent and certainly highly paid journalists, and almost everyone they went to for a quote about today's rail fare "increases," seem unable to understand that the same principle works the other way round.

If inflation as measured by the RPI (Retail Price Index) is 2.8% (which it is) and average wage increases are keeping pace with this (which they currently are: average weekly wages are up by 3.9% on a year earlier, although some people are doing better than this and others less well) then a price increase in cash terms equal to the 2.8% increase in the RPI will, for an average person, mean no change in real terms.

And therefore the 2.8% cash terms increase, in line with the RPI change, which has been announced this week represents a freeze in the real cost of rail travel to the average person. The discussion on the BBC and other media channels of this inflation indexing as if it were in any material sense an increase for the average user makes no sense at all.

This is so obvious that I am almost embarrassed to have to point it out.

It is sad that the quality of public debate in this country, even during the "silly season" should be so dumbed down.

New Railcard launched

The government is launching a new ‘16-17 Saver’ railcard which will make it cheaper to travel for over a million teenagers. 

The brand new 16-17 Saver railcard will be launched next week, guaranteeing half-price travel for young people, saving families an average of £186 every year. 
The brand new railcard means that a generation of rail passengers can now benefit from cheaper fares, keeping more money in their pockets and helping them get to school, college and work. 
Railcards enable young people to travel more affordably, boosting education opportunities, communities and businesses. 

Why this matters:

We want to create a railway system that works for hardworking families – and with our record £48 billion investment in the railways, we are focused on providing passengers with the frequent, reliable and affordable journeys they deserve.

Quote of the day 14th August 2019

"These are the kinds of sentiments that have come to be associated with leavers – the idea that the country had been going in the wrong direction, that it had become unrecognisable. But after the referendum, they were suddenly being voiced by remainists. 'It was just so reminiscent of how radical-right voters would think,' says Rob Ford, a political scientist at the University of Manchester who has researched the rise of Ukip. 'And it was remarkable how quickly that mindset descended.'

And so these people, who once dismissed radicals as unreasonable, have themselves become radicalised. They used to pride themselves on their moderation; now, spurred on by rage, they divide the world into enemies and allies. What they are doing is loud, obsessive, tribal, confrontational – politics, in other words."

(Daniel Cohen extract from an article about the similarities between harldine Leavers and hardline Remainers in, of all places, the Guardian, called

"‘Loud, obsessive, tribal’: the radicalisation of remain"

which you can read in full here.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Global Britain

The Foreign Secretary has set out his plans for a truly global future after Britain leaves the European Union on 31 October.

  • After Brexit the Conservatives have no intention of retreating into "little England isolation but intent to take opportunities to deepen our partnerships around the world. 
  • In his first fortnight as Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab has met the foreign ministers of 22 countries, who have spoken of their ambition to strengthen their ties with us. 
  • The Foreign Secretary highlighted the United States’ readiness to sign a deal – which would boost business and enhance consumer choice on both sides of the Atlantic. 
  • We will also work with Canada to boost investment, ensure a smooth transition on our trade and promote global values. 
  • And we will bolster our commitment to the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions, developing stronger trade, and working together to ensure stability.

Employment figures

Latest figures continue to show that there are a record number of people in work, including a record number of women and disabled people, and wages are growing at their fastest pace in 11 years as Conservative policies are providing a solid foundation on which to build Britain’s economic future.

With the number of people in work at its highest on record, more people than ever before have the economic independence that a job brings and can reach their full potential.

But we must do more to deliver a strong economy to fund the public services we all rely on.

Too many communities have been left behind, so we will go further to invest in infrastructure and skills so that everyone has a fair chance to get on in life wherever they live and whatever their background.

Labour's announced policies would damage the economy. Just like the last time they were in power,  they’d leave us with more debt, higher taxes and fewer jobs, hitting ordinary working people and hurting the people they claim to help.

Key statistics
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.9 per cent compared with a year earlier. 
  • Employment: 32.81 million (up 425,000 over the last year and up by 3.76 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 76.1 per cent (up 0.6 points over the past year and up 5.9 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.33 million (down 33,000 over the past year and down by 1.18 million since 2010). 
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 per cent (down 0.1 points over the past year and down 4.1 points since 2010) –halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are 437,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: The number of disabled people in work is at a record high of 4.1 million. There are over 1 million more disabled people in work since 2014. 
  • BAME employment: 3.9 million (up 1.1 million since 2010).

Cracking down on crime in prisons

Sending people to prison is supposed to stop people committing crime, not create more opportunities for it. So today Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a crackdown on crime in prisons, taking action on issues which matter to voters so the public can see justice being done, punishment being served, and so that they feel protected. 

  • The Conservative government will target all types of crime in prisons with cutting-edge technology to clamp down on drugs, weapons and mobile phones with a £100 million boost. 
  • We’re also creating 10,000 new prison places and have ordered an urgent review into the prison sentences of violent and sexual offenders to properly protect the public from the most dangerous criminals. 
  • Today’s announcement forms part of a wider package of measures to ensure we’re tough on crime and to protect the public, including the Prime Minister’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers and enhance stop and search powers. 

Why this matters:

Conservatives, like the public, want dangerous criminals kept off our streets, and properly punished for their crimes.

Quote of the day 13th August 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019

Protecting the public from crime

The Prime Minister has ordered an urgent review into the prison sentences of violent and sexual offenders to ensure the public are properly protected from the most dangerous criminals. 
  • The review – beginning immediately – will focus on violent and sexual offenders, assessing if their sentences truly reflect the severity of their crimes. 
  • It will look at whether we need to change the law so they cannot be let out if they have not served their full time. 
  • Finally, it will examine how we can break the vicious cycle whereby prolific, repeat offenders go from crime to prison to crime again and to more and more serious offences. 

Why this matters

This review forms part of our efforts to crack down on crime, recruiting 20,000 new police officers, creating 10,000 new prison places and increasing stop and search powers. We, like the public, want dangerous criminals kept off our streets, and properly punished for their crimes.

This follows on from yesterday's statement in which the Prime Minister announced new measures to crack down on crime and reverse the balance of fear, creating 10,000 new prison places and enhancing stop and search powers to make our streets safer. 
  • We will create 10,000 new prison places by building new modern, efficient prisons which will provide better opportunities to reform criminals, meaning less re-offending and a lower burden on the taxpayer. 
  • We will enhance stop and search powers, giving the police our full support in combatting the scourge of serious violence and keeping people safe. 
  • We will publish draft guidance on measures in the Offensive Weapons Act – paving the way for new criminal offences that will help to stop knives and dangerous acids making their way onto our streets.

Quote of the day 12th August 2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday music spot: "Noble in B Minor" Magnificat (Wakefield Cathedral Choir)

Sunday reflection 11th August 2019

In the present age when some - not all - religious believers are quick to disavow any scientific view that they find inconvenient and the more aggressive atheists are prone to claim that science is on their side, it is easy to see science and religion as opposed.

This is not the only possible view and indeed, for most of the history of science the two were aligned, with religions leaders strongly encouraging the search for scientific knowledge and many of the greatest scientific minds in history, such as Isaac Newton, also being religious believers.

While there have been obvious cases of genuine clashes between science and religion - the Catholic church's battle with Galileo, for instance, or the initial reaction of many religious believers to the theory of evolution - those who seek to present religion and science as opposed have grossly oversimplified some real events such as the murder of Hypatia and completely distorted others.

The classic example of a myth presenting religion as anti-science which is the complete reverse of the truth is the popular idea that the church opposed Columbus's expedition because they thought the earth was flat.

This is completely wrong. Both sides in that disagreement knew perfectly well that the earth is roughly spherical in shape. The disagreement between Christopher Columbus and the panel of experts, some of them clerics, who King Ferdinand appointed to review the proposal for an expedition was not about the shape of the planet but about how big a sphere it is - and furthermore,  on this point, they were right and Columbus was wrong.

Columbus had underestimated the size of the world, and therefore the distance he had to sail to reach India by sailing West from Europe. Those who opposed his expedition did so not because they were anti-science and thought the world flat but because their science was better than his: their idea of the size of the world was much closer to being accurate and they had correctly calculated that the ships available to him in 1492 did not have the range to reach India that way.

Fortunately for Columbus what neither side knew was that there were a couple of continents in the way, which his ships did have the range to reach. When he found them, he mistakenly imagined that he had arrived in the vicinity of India, which is why the archipelago where he made landfall in the Americas is known by the grossly misleading title of the "West Indies" to this day.

At St James' church Whitehaven the Reverend Alison Riley preached a sermon this morning in which she included a quote from Albert Einstein.

I have learned the hard way to check any quote attributed to Einstein as he never said at least three quarters of the things attributed to him, but this quote is an accurate one. In Einstein’s essay “Science and religion,” published in 1954. he wrote

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Einstein, like his work, was a fantastically complex man and he said things which, taken out of context appear to be on both sides of the atheist/religious divide.

One thing which he was quite clear about, however, was that it made him angry when crusaders for either any conventional religion or for militant atheism claimed him as a supporter

One of Britain's leading experts on Einstein, John Brooke of Oxford University, has written that the great scientist's position on God has been widely misrepresented by people on both sides of the atheism/religion divide but he always resisted easy stereotyping on the subject.

"Like other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him," said Brooke.

"It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions ... but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion." 

Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Brooke said that Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."

The point I am making by quoting Einstein is not that science provides an argument for Christianity, Judaism or any other religion. He would have objected to his statement being used in that way. However, both the scientist and the person of faith can and should be, in their different ways, seekers after truth. And those who genuinely seek after truth do not have to be opponents.

In that sense, to imagine that faith and science must always be on opposite sites is to weaken both.