Showing posts from 2020

2020 in Retrospect

 I was tempted to post a two word review of the year 2020 consisting of the words "Expletive deleted." But although this would be tempting is it not absolutely fair. Yes, the Coronavirus spoiled so many things about this year, but it also showed many aspects of humanity at their best. Heroes like those who kept the NHS going. Heroes like Sir Tom Moore and many others who did their bit to support NHS charities and others in need. It is a marvellous achievement to have two vaccines ready and approved after detailed and rigorous clinical trials, to deal with a disease which none of us had even heard of a year ago. After four and a half years of arguing about Brexit, we have finally managed to implement what the British people voted for - we left the EU earlier in the year, and although it was a even more last minute than I expected, (I always predicted we would get a deal, though we came a bit closer to not doing so than I anticipated) we finish the transition period at 11pm wit

New Year's Eve music: "Ring Out Wild Bells"

A change of calendar will not magically eliminate all the problems of the past twelve months, and even this dark year included some good things. Nevertheless, there has never in all my life been a year I am as glad to post this song to say goodbye to as 2020.

Michael Gove ridicules SNP vote for a No Deal Brexit

As they threatened last week the SNP effectively voted for a "No Deal" Brexit yesterday.  Britain had already left the EU nearly a year ago, and the trading relationship we had previously had with EU countries expires at 11pm tonight.   After a deal between the UK and EU negotiators was finally reached on Christmas Eve this was the deal on the table. Imagining that any other deal was still an option yesterday would have been pure fantasy - there was no way that some alternative deal could have been negotiated and ratified before the transition period expires in a few hours' time. In the real world there were two options available to parliament yesterday: to ratify the real deal which was actually on the table, or a "No Deal" Brexit. The SNP went into the lobbies against the deal - and if they had won that vote we would have had a "no deal" Brexit tomorrow. The SNP had previously described the possibility of a "No Deal" Brexit as "catast

EU Deal ratified by parliament

  Yesterday, both Houses of Parliament approved the EU Trade deal which sets out the basis for have the United Kingdom to trade with the EU after the transition period expires at 11pm tonight. This delivers on what the British people voted for both in the referendum and the last election.    As promised, this deal takes back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries – and it ends any role for the European Court. From 1st January 2021, the United Kingdom will have political and economic independence.    Britain will enter the New Year as a fully sovereign nation. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain means to the rest of the world: striking trade deals with new markets, reasserting ourselves as a liberal and free trading nation; and acting as a force for good in the world. This agreement: Is based on international law, not EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and no requirements for the UK to continue to follow EU law.  All of our

Quote of the day for new year's eve, 31st December 2020


Most of England goes into Tier 4 from tomorrow

Cumbria, along with nearly all of the North West of England and about 78% of the population of England as a whole will move into Tier four just after midnight in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Before the enormous uptick in the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading, apparently because of the new variant, I think most of us would have hoped this would not be necessary, but after the figures which I discussed in my post this morning some action at least as severe as this was, frankly inevitable. The government has now announced that the following local authority areas will move to  Tier 4: Stay at Home  from the beginning of Thursday 31 December 2020: Leicester City Leicestershire (Oadby and Wigston, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth, Blaby, Charnwood, North West Leicestershire, Melton) Lincolnshire (City of Lincoln, Boston, South Kesteven, West Lindsey, North Kesteven, South Holland, East Lindsey) Northamptonshire (Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South

Whoever would have thought it?

If you had predicted to me a year ago, that on the penultimate day of 2020 the House of Commons would finally pass the trade treaty setting out the terms on which Britain will trade with the 27 EU countries after the Brexit transition period by 521 votes to 73, I would probably have nodded and said, "Yes, I could believe that" at the idea of it passing with one day to spare raised an eyebrow at the predicted size of the majority, and rolled on the floor laughing at the suggestion that this event would not be the top news story, not even one of the top two news stories of the day. And then probably offered to arrange for you to have an interview with a nice helpful and friendly doctor to discuss Section II of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Carol of the day Myn Lyking


Measuring the impact of COVID-19

The vaccines which give us hope of a return to normality appear to have arrived just in time as the increased spread of  COVID-19, apparently due to the greater infectiousness of the new variant, has produced some very alarming figures over the last few days, with daily new cases passing 50k for the first time yesterday. Although this particularly high figure may partly represent fluctuations in reporting over Christmas, scientists and statisticians say the main driver is a genuine underlying increase. Here is a table pulled together by the BBC using government sources of data showing the seven-day rolling average of new cases in the UK over the time of the pandemic. However you measure COVID-19 related deaths, and as we'll see in a moment there are about three ways to do this, they are currently running at about half the daily rate at the peak of the first wave which is still a horribly high level. The seven-day average daily death rate for COVID-related deaths in the UK is 466 as

Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine against COVID-19 approved by MHRA for use in UK

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has become the second vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in the UK, with the first doses due to be given on Monday 4th December. The second jab, which has been described as a "game changer", has been given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The UK has ordered 100 million doses - enough to vaccinate 50 million people. This will cover the entire population, when combined with the full order of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The news comes as millions more people in England are expected to be placed under the toughest tier four restrictions as infections and hospitalisations rise, apparently because of the new and more infections variant. Scientists believe that both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine previously approved and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will still be effective against the new variant of COVID-19 but it is still very helpful to have two diffe

Quote of the day 30th December 2020

"Those of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU never sought a rupture with our closest neighbours." "What we sought was not a rupture but a resolution, a resolution of the old and vexed question of Britain's political relations with Europe, which bedevilled our post-War history." ( Boris Johnson , extracts released to the press this morning of draft speech to parliament in support of the trade deal.)

UK signs trade agreement with Turkey

The UK has signed a free trade deal with Turkey. The continuity agreement, signed by both trade ministers on Tuesday in a video conference call, takes effect on 1 January and ensures that the existing flow of goods will not be affected when the UK formally leaves the EU at the end of the year. Trade between London and Ankara was worth £18.6bn in 2019, and the UK is Turkey’s second-biggest export market, mostly for precious metals, vehicles, textiles and electrical equipment. While Turkey is not an EU member, it does have a customs union with the EU, meaning that the new UK-Turkey deal could not be struck until after the Brexit deal was finalised. “Today’s deal delivers vital certainty for business and supports thousands of jobs across the UK in the manufacturing, automotive and steel industries,” said the international trade secretary, Liz Truss. “It paves the way for a new, more ambitious deal with Turkey in the near future, and is part of our plan to put the UK at the centre of a ne

Daily Christmas music spot: The King's Singers sing "The Little Drummer Boy"


Quote of the day 29th December 2020


Carol of the day "In dulci jubilo" (Bach)

This version is half in German and half in Latin. If anyone wants me to post the lyrics with a translation into English, please let me know via posting a request in the comments.

EU agrees initial ratification of the Brexit trade agreement

 Ambassadors for the 27 EU states have unanimously agreed to ratify the Brexit trade agreement and that it can come into effect on an interim basis when the Brexit transition period expires at 11pm on Thursday night. According to the Guardia website , "At a meeting of ambassadors in Brussels, the 27 member states gave their support for the 1,246-page treaty to be “provisionally applied” at the end of the year. The decision will be formally completed by written procedure at 3pm central European time (1400 GMT) on Tuesday." Final ratification will require the approval of the European parliament which will be sought in the first three months of the new year, probably in February or March. It will also require the approval of the UK parliament, which will be sought on Wednesday. The signs are that Leave-supporting MPs are falling into line behind the deal. Because voting against it would be a vote for a "No Deal" Brexit, it is likely that Remain-supporting MPs will only

Quote of the day for the Boxing day bank holiday, 28th December 2020

“The British have experienced diplomats who don’t give up and always ask for more,”  ( Michel Barnier , Chief EU trade negotiator, speaking today about the trade negotiations leading up to the Brexit deal signed on Christmas Eve. As far as I can see the EU has possibly some of the toughest trade negotiators on the planet, so for them to say something like this is a bit like Mike Tyson describing another boxer as a tough opponent.) 

SNP MPs to vote for "No Deal" Brexit

The Scottish National Party has confirmed that its MPs will vote against the trade deal agreed between the UK and EU on Wednesday when it comes before parliament for ratification. Since Britain has already left the EU and the transition period under which we continued to trade with the EU on the same terms as when we were members expires at 11pm on Thursday evening, the choice for MPs on Wednesday is between trading on the terms agreed in this deal or a "No Deal" Brexit. There is absolutely no mechanism to cancel Brexit at this stage. It has already happened, and if we wanted to reverse it Britain would have to apply to re-join on the the same basis and using the same mechanisms as a country who had never been an EU member state. It would be completely impossible to do that in five days. The SNP's Westminster leader described Brexit as  "An unforgivable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity, which will cause lasting damage to the economy and leave the UK much

Carol of the day: "See Amid the Winter's Snow" (King's College Cambridge)


Quote of the day 27th December 2020


Carol of the day for Boxing Day (a.k.a. the feast of Stephen) - Good King Wenceslas


Quote of the day for Boxing day 2020

  To those for whom the Coronavirus pandemic has meant that you could see members of your family only on a Zoom call or something similar: I hope that you will all be able to see them in the flesh again soon.

The Queen's Christmas Broadcast 2020

For anyone who missed it, here is Her Majesty the Queen's Christmas broadcast this afternoon.  As usual, Her majesty hits exactly the right note for this very difficult season, recognising the very difficult challenges we have all faced, praising those who have risem so magnificently to those challenges, and finishing with a message of hope.

A Carol for Christmas Day: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (Adeste Fideles)

"O Come All Ye Faithful" sung at Westminster Abbey at a "Midnight Mass" service beginning late on Christmas Eve, so by the time they had reached this Carol and sang the last verse with the line "Born this happy morning," it was indeed the early hours of the morning of Christmas Day.  Obviously this recording was made in a previous year (2013) when Westminster Abbey could be packed with people without a COVID-19 risk. A very suitable carol for Christmas Day. And a merry Christmas to you all.

A Christmas message

For anyone reading this who is of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bahai faiths, May the God of Abraham be with you and all who you love at this time, guard, guide and protect you. For anyone reading this who loves the Christmas story: May the Joy of the Angels, The Eagerness of the Shepherds The Wisdom of the Magi The Patience of Joseph The Love of Mary and the Hope represented by the baby Jesus be with you this Christmas season and throughout the year For anyone reading this of any other faith, may your God be with you at this time. And for everyone reading this, I with you and your family good health and happiness at this time and a New Year 2021 which is better than 2020 has been for any of us.

Quote of the day for Christmas Day 2020


Sometimes you really can't win - part 2.

Yesterday I pointed out a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for politicians of every party all around the world on whether they should take the vaccination against COVID-19 at an early stage and be seen to do so. (If they do, they're accused of jumping the queue: if they don't they're not displaying leadership and proving to people that it's safe.) Today following the signing of the Trade deal between the UK and the EU, the largest bilateral trade deal which either party has ever done, we have another example. For the last couple of weeks, up to about yesterday night, when it looked possible that Britain would be leaving the Brexit transition period at the end of this month without a trade deal the more vocal Remain supporters and Remain supporting newspapers have been reminding us at every opportunity that during the 2016 referendum campaign practically all the senior Leave campaigners, and particularly those who are now running the govern

Quote of the Year 2020

'The government has has done quite enough of bossing people around over the last ten months or so.' ( Prime Minister Boris Johnson responding to Harry Cole of the Sun at today's Brexit press conference, explaining why he does not want to tell Brits how to celebrate the completion of Brexit.)

Second quote of the day 24th December 2020

"Whatever you think of the prime minister, and few are indifferent, today is a moment of triumph for Boris Johnson. When he became prime minister, he had no majority, no mandate to call his own, an angry country and an angry Parliament. 18 months, a pandemic and nothing less than a brush with death later, he has won a big majority, got the UK out of the European Union, and now done a deal with Brussels. Some, in the coming days, will suggest it's not good enough. Others will never be reconciled to Brexit, an idea they will forever regard as a colossal act of self harm. Vast amounts wait to be found, no doubt, buried amid the subterranean depths of the deal document itself. But plenty will hope this is the final giant moment in what has been a tortuous few years, combining visceral apoplexy with waves of tedium." (BBC journalist Chris Mason today. Not often a BBC journo writes something that positive about Boris.)

The Deal is Done

PM Boris Johnson tweeted this afternoon that "The deal is done" as British and EU negotiators finally reached agreement on the new relationship between Britain and the countries of the European Union, which is the biggest bilateral trade deal either party has ever signed. Parliament will be recalled in the next seven days and asked to ratify the deal. The EU parliament and member states will also be asked to ratify the deal, which is expected to be approved on an interim basis pending ratification so that it can come into effect when Britain leaves the transition period at the end of the year in seven days' time. Here are some details of the deak  Taking back control with a new deal Britain has concluded our negotiations with the EU on our future relationship – and secured an excellent deal for the United Kingdom, which fully delivers on what the British people voted for both in the referendum and the last election.   As promised, this deal takes back control of our laws

Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine takes next steps towards approval

As half a million of the most vulnerable people in the UK and NHS and other key workers have had their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination against Coronavirus, the full data package for the Oxford/AstraZenica has now been submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for approval. Obviously, and just as Prizer and BioNTech did with the first vaccine Oxford Uni and AstraZenica have been submitting data on their extensive clinical trials to MHRA as it came in, so the regulator will not be in the position of having to read through the whole dataset from the beginning before they can make a decision. However, I presume this means that Oxford and AstraZenica think they now have the data from a complete clinical trial to prove the vaccine is safe and effective. Hopefully MHRA will be able to confirm that the data does prove this and give approval. Another vaccine will be great news - if we have two different vaccines available there is that much less r

The Lord at First Did Adam Make (the Backhouse arrangement)


A carol for Christmas Eve: "The Lord At First Did Adam Make"


Quote of the day 24th December 2020

“Brexit work will continue throughout the night.  “Grabbing some sleep is recommended to all Brexit-watchers at this point. It will hopefully be an early start tomorrow morning...”  ( Eric Mamer , the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, on Twitter in the early hours of Christmas Eve 2020, as hopes of a last minute agreement in the Brexit trade talks began to rise .)

The Sturgeon paradox

A couple of weeks ago the Spectator ran a piece by Alex Massie, featured with the front cover headline  "The Sturgeon Paradox," which asked why there seems to be an inverse correlation between the actual performance of the SNP government of Scotland and its popularity with Scottish voters - the worse they do the more popular they become. The article gives chapter and verse on the failure of the SNP's policies on education and health. He doesn't but could, also point to their dreadful "named person" children's policy and an atrocious attitude to free speech. With regard to the coronavirus pandemic - and in repeating this point I do not wish to associate myself with any suggestion that either government has got everything wrong and nothing right - Massie also points out that all the worst mistakes made by the UK government have also been made by the Scottish government. Yet even as voters in Scotland profess themselves deeply unhappy with services the mana

A 2020 Christmas jungle - Santa Claus is COVID Secure

This is very possibly the funniest thing I have seen and heard in 2020 ...

Sometimes you really can't win ...

The US democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar has criticised fellow politicians in the States as "shameful" for being injected with the COVID-19 vaccination before all health workers have had it. That accusation, and similar ones on this side of the pond, show only too clearly that there are times when you're damned if you do, damned if you don't and really cannot win. If politicians, other than those who are sufficiently old to come into a high priority category of clinical need, have the vaccine at an early stage, they get accused of jumping the queue. If they don't they get accused of failing to show leadership and demonstrate that they have confidence that the vaccination is safe and effective. Ms Omar's fellow Democrat congresswoman, and usual close ally,  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (nicknamed AOC) chronicled her vaccination on a series of Instagram Stories and encouraged followers to ask questions about it.  When the same charge which Ilhan Omar has been throw

Quote of the day 23rd December 2020

“This is the way that the politics of pandemic plays out. Even though it is untrue that new variant Covid has only been detected in the UK, it suits our neighbours to act as though this were a repetition of the BSE/CJD “mad cow” epidemic that ruined British beef farming a generation ago.  “The fact that the first instances of the mutant coronavirus were found in Kent, England’s gateway to the Continent, strongly suggests that it did not originate in this country. The speed with which the second wave has spread elsewhere implies that this or perhaps other mutations are at work across Europe.” “Yet surely the bigger picture is more important. The whole world now believes that the UK is a uniquely dangerous place to be, or with which to have contact, when the truth is rather different.  “The latest death toll reported here was 215 yesterday, a 7.7 per cent rise on last week. That is worrying, but it still compares favourably with France, where the latest count was 351 deaths, or Germany,

Christmas music slot: Carols from Distington

A medley of carols - We Three Kings, Silent Night and We Wish You a Merry Christmas - played on a theatre organ by Christopher Lamb from Distington.

Gilbert Scurrah RIP

Former Copeland councillor Gilbert Scurrah died on Saturday. Mr Scurrah represented the Millom Without Ward from 1995 until he stood down at the May 2019 elections. Whatever else you thought about Gilbert he was completely fearless, always said exactly what he thought, and always did what he regarded as best for the people of the area he represented. Rest in Peace.

Next stage of hospital development at WCH

Fantastic news today for health in West Cumbria with the details released of the next phase of building and development to increase capacity at West Cumberland hospital (WCH). Building work to improve capacity in the emergency department at WCH will start early in the New Year.  The work is part of the £4 million winter funding awarded to North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (NCIC) earlier this year and will make it possible to further develop the same day emergency care facilities on the site.    There has been a lot of work done in recent months to improve the Emergency Departments run by NCIC, including the successful implementation of the Same Day Emergency Care model at both sites. The delivery of additional space will enable NCIC to develop this work further, by improving capacity, reducing overcrowding, and improve the overall patient experience.   Earlier in 2020, NHS Trusts across England, including North Cumbria Integrated NHS Foundation Trust, were allocated sh

Quote of the day 22nd December 2020

“We are eager for the expansion and development work to begin to the existing Emergency Care Floor at WCH. It will allow us to offer a much improved service to our patients and will also provide an improved working environment for our staff.” ( David Glover ,  Emergency Care and medicine General Manager  at the West Cumberland Hospital, referring to the latest phase of new building work at the hospital which will start on 4th January. See next post!)

Are any Cromwell-era anti-Christmas laws still on the statute book?

With what COVID-19 has done to this year's Christmas festivities, there has been a resurgence of stories - true and false - about the supposed previous attempt to "ban Christmas" under Oliver Cromwell. To cut a long story short, the title of this post is what John Rentoul of the Independent calls a QTWTAIN - a Question To Which The Answer Is No. Cromwell was for a time the leader of the hardline puritan faction within parliament and effectively became military dictator of Britain on the basis of support from that faction and the military might of what started as the parliamentary army (but supported Cromwell when he sacked parliament.) There is no doubt that this faction did make some attempts to crack down on Christmas festivities. Nor is there any doubt that these attempts reached their zenith during the period of Cromwell's military dictatorship known as the "Rule of the major-generals" when England and Wales were divided into eleven regions each subject

Vaccination update


Carol of the day: The Angel Gabriel (sung by the choir of Kings College chapel, Cambridge)


Quote of the day 21st December 2020

“We have given ourselves a few more days because we think that an agreement is still possible.  I t’s hard, not sure, but worth a try." ( Clément Beaune , France’s European affairs minister, speaking at the weekend about the Brexit trade negotiations.)

Supporting Independent Cinemas

Today the Culture Secretary has  announced £16 million of grants for independent cinemas  across England, helping to protect jobs across the industry and the whole of the nation. The magic of film is an important part of the festive period. It’s important to help protect our independent cinemas so they’re around for many Christmases to come and protect the jobs and livelihoods they support.    These grants will help than 200 independent cinemas across England – funded through our £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. Hundreds of cinemas have already received funding, allocated by the British Film Institute (BFI), with another £14 million in grants becoming available in the new year as part of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund.    Alongside the extension of the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, this funding will ensure the UK will continue to produce even more great content as the cinema industry recovers, keeping Britain at the forefront of the creative industries as we

EU trade negotiations

Britain's trade negotiations with the EU will shortly be coming to a conclusion after over nine months of tense talks. As these talks enter the final days and hours, it is looking increasingly likely that the UK will be leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. Talks have become stuck due to unreasonable EU demands on areas such as subsidies and fisheries.   Every effort is being made to accommodate reasonable EU requests on the level playing field, but the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from Member States and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence. The Prime Minister has been clear that we cannot sacrifice what it means to be a sovereign and independent nation in order to secure a deal.   If a suitable compromise cannot be reached, Britain will trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms from 1st January.

Coronavirus update 20th December 2020

  Last night, the Prime Minister  announced new Christmas restrictions  and the  introduction of Tier 4 for London and the South East , in order to get this new variant of the virus under control, to protect our loved ones and protect our NHS. On Friday, Nervtag Analysis revealed that the new strain of the virus is 70 per cent more transmissible and could increase the R by 0.4. Therefore, the government had to act swiftly in order to prevent it spreading to the rest of the country and overwhelming the NHS.    From today, new tougher Tier 4 restrictions have come into place for London and the South East. Under these new restrictions: You must stay at home, apart from limited exemptions set out in law.   All non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services must close.   You must work from home if you can.    You should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home.    You can only meet one person from anot

Carol of the day: Lute-book lullaby (William Ballet)


Quote of the day 20th December 2020

"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned. In England, those living in tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though support bubbles will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation. Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out. As before, there will be no relaxation on 31 December, so people must not break the rules at New Year. I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren, and for families to be together. So I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science. When th

New stricter Tier 4 for London & South East: PM's Statement today

  The Prime Minister made the following statement at a press conference today:   "Good afternoon,   I am sorry to report that the situation has deteriorated since I last spoke to you three days ago.   Yesterday afternoon, I was briefed on the latest data showing the virus spreading more rapidly in London, the South East and the East of England than would be expected given the tough restrictions which are already in place. I also received an explanation for why the virus is spreading more rapidly in these areas. It appears this spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus, which we first learned about earlier this week. Our advisory group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats – NERVTAG – has spent the last few days analysing the new variant. There is no evidence the variant causes more severe illness or higher mortality, but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.   NERVTAG’s early analysis suggests the new variant could increase R by 0.4 or