Friday, January 31, 2020

Promise to "Get Brexit Done" delivered

Britain has now left the European Union, with a deal, at 11pm this evening (Friday 31st January 2020)

We are no longer bound by the EU trade regulations which prevented us striking formal trade deals with non EU members and are therefore now able to negotiate trade deals with other countries.

The election promise to "Get Brexit Done" has been kept. The decision taken by the electorate in June 2016 has finally been carried out.

There will be an eleven month transition period, finishing by the end of this year, during which Britain will continue to trade with the 27 member states of the EU on the same terms as when we were a member, while a new trade deal is negotiated.

Today marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of British relations with the EU and the other nations of Europe.

There have been plenty of warm words on all sides about the wish for that new chapter to be marked by continuing friendship and co-operation. I hope those warm words will bear fruit.

A Brexit day competition

I'm a little disappointed with Spiked.

They rightly point out that "Brexit Derangement Syndrome" has driven a lot of people do to do or say exceptionally very silly things.

They've published an extremely amusing article which points out ten of them - but only from Remainers.

When we all know that some of the other side are just as bonkers as the cases (correctly) lampooned in "The Ten maddest Remainer moments."

So here is a challenge to Remainers - and anyone else.

Who can produce the funniest corresponding list of "Ten maddest Brexiteer" moments" to balance it?

But here is the catch: they all have to be genuinely funny and loopy, not just an attack on something that you happen to disagree with or which annoys you even if I think you are right.

So for example, citing the slogan on the side of that red bus , though I agree with you that it was misleading and said so at the time, will not be accepted.

To start the ball rolling, an example of the kind of Mad Leaver moment which I am looking for a came this week when James Delingpole on Twitter attacked Boris Johnson's decision - yes, Boris Johnson's decision - to restrict the share Huawei can take in the UK's 5G telecoms market as proof that the "Remainiac Deep State" is still calling all the shots.

The author of the funniest list submitted by the end of February gets to choose as a prize either a £10 Amazon voucher or the opportunity to submit a guest article arguing anything you like which is not libellous or otherwise against the law to be published on my blog.

Brexit day

Well, the day which some have longed for and others have dreaded is finally here: today is Brexit day. At 11pm this evening Britain ceases to be a member state of the European union.

To those who are delighted: enjoy the celebrations.

There will be others, both in this country and the 27 countries who after today will not be "the rest of the EU" but "the EU," who deeply regret what is happening today. Let's not rub their noses in it. They remain our friends and neighbours and those 27 countries remain our allies.

A third group, who may well be the majority, do not sit easily in either category. They include those who did not vote or never felt strongly about it, and those like myself who voted Remain but considered democracy more important than EU membership and that the decision of the people through the ballot box must be respected. There are also those, whichever way they voted in 2016,  who are heartily sick of all the arguments and political paralysis and are just relieved to see a decision taken and implemented so the UK can at last move on to the next chapter of our country's history and address the other challenges we face.

To those people and indeed everyone else: a chapter is closing and a new one beginning. Let's move on and make this work.

Thought for the day 31st January 2020

Quote of the day 31st January 2020 - Brexit day

“The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning. 

“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act. It is a moment of real national renewal and change.”

(Prime minister Boris Johnson - from the speech he will give this evening to mark Britain's departure from the EU.)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Six things which change in 24 hours time, and six things which won't

When Britain leaves the EU in 24 hours from the time of this post, here are six things which will change.

1) Britain will regain the power to negotiate trade deals

2) The "Department for exiting the EU" will close down

3) Britain will have no more MEPs

4) Britain will no longer take part in EU summits

5) New UK passports will go back to being blue and gold. (Burgundy coloured passports previously issued will still be valid until their expiry date.)

6) 3 million commemorative Brexit 50p coins will enter circulation.

Here are six things which will not change yet - although in some cases changes may take place at the conclusion of the transition period at the end of this year, depending on what is negotiated in the trade agreement. At that time Britain will also will stop making our current contributions to the EU budget.

1) Flights, boats and trains will operate as usual.

In terms of passport control, during the transition period, UK nationals will still be allowed to queue in the areas reserved for EU arrivals only.

2) Driving licences and pet passports. Valid UK driving licences and pet passports will continue to be accepted in the 27 states of the EU.

3) EHIC Health cards

The European Health Insurance Cards which give access to state-provided medical treatment in case of illness or accident will continue to operate for UK citizens in any EU country (as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and will continue to be valid during the transition period.

4) The Irish border will remain open with no infrastructure of any kind at the border.

During the transition period freedom of movement will continue to apply, so UK nationals will still be able to live and work in the EU as they currently do. The same applies for EU nationals wanting to live and work in the UK.

5) British pensioners living in the EU will continue to receive their state pension and will also receive the annual increase.

6) Trade between Britain and the 27 EU countries will continue without any extra charges or checks being introduced.

Ethan Jones RIP

The Royal Marine who died following a training incident has been named as Ethan Jones.

He was part of a group practising an assault from a landing craft on Tregantle beach, Cornwall, when he went under the water on 21 January. The 20-year-old was taken to hospital where he died on Friday.

The Royal Navy is investigating the incident.

His family said: "Ethan died fulfilling his dream and doing something he loved."

They continued:

"Joining the Royal Marines was something Ethan had wanted to do for as long as we can remember. He wanted to join the best of the best and challenge himself.

"Ethan loved the outdoor lifestyle and was looking forward to serving as a Marine on operations around the world. We are very proud of all that he achieved."

His death is a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who serve their country. Even in peacetime that service can cost their lives. We should never forget.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 30th January 2020

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Midweek music spot: Home Free sing "Auld Lang Syne"

After voting to ratify Britain's departure from the EU on Friday, MEP's sang "Auld Lang Syne."

Here is a Home Free performance of that song.

European Parliament approves Brexit deal

The last remaining obstacle to Britain leaving the EU with a deal on Friday was cleared today as the European parliament voted by 621 votes to 49 following an emotional debate in Brussels.

After the vote, MEPs marked the UK's exit by singing Auld Lang Syne.

The Parliament's Brexit spokesman, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was "sad to see a country leaving that has twice given its blood to liberate Europe." 

He added that British MEPs had brought "wit, charm, and intelligence" as well as "stubbornness", and would be missed.

The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said ratification of the withdrawal deal was "only a first step" towards a new partnership between the EU and the UK. The two should "join forces" in areas such as climate change, she said, and seek a close partnership following the UK's exit on Friday.

"We will always love you and we will not be far," she told the UK.

Quote of the day 29th January 2020

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Nicholas Parsons RIP

There are some people in every field of life whose longevity is such that it seems that they might go on forever. But in this universe, nothing does.

One broadcasting legend who appeared to have been around since time immemorial died in the early hours of this morning at the age of 96, after hosting the show "Just a minute" for more than fifty years and well into his nineties, presenting his last programme as recently as 23rd September last year.

The final whistle has blown for Nicholas Parsons, one of the best loved figures in entertainment.

Besides "Just a minute" which Parsons hosted from its inception in 1967 until his death, he also appeared on or hosted a huge range of programmes, from "Sale of the Century" to "Doctor Who."

While he was immensely funny, he came over as a very gentle, good-natured person who was a delight to listen to and will undoubtedly be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 28th January 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

Emergency One Way Traffic Order, Main Street St Bees

As a result of a gas leak, Cumbria County Council's officers have put an emergency one-way traffic order onto a section of Main Street in St Bees, in the vicinity of the level crossing over the railway, which came into effect today (Monday 27th January 2020) and is expected to last for about five days.

While the order is in effect traffic will only be able to drive South-East along this section of road.

A diversion is in place and signposted for traffic heading North West which runs via High House Road, the A595, Mirehouse Road and the B5345 (St Bees Road.)

Music spot for 27 January 2020: Purcell's funeral music from March to Canzona

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and is commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day, on which we remember the Shoah (the murder of nearly six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazis) and the other victims of the Nazi holocaust.

To describe just the ten largest groups of other victims, listed in order of the number of people murdered by the Nazis, the victims of the holocaust included Jews, Soviet/Russian POWs and civilians, Poles, Serbs, People with disabilities, Gypsies, Freemasons, Slovenes, political and religious opponents of Nazism, gay people, and too many other racial, religious, political or social groups to list.

Today we remember all those victims as well as those in other genocides such as those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Speaking at a national commemoration of the event today, in Westminster Central Hall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“I feel a deep sense of shame that here in Britain in 2020 we seem to be dealing with a resurgence of the virus of anti-Semitism, and I know that I carry a responsibility as Prime Minister to do everything possible to stamp it out.”

Vowing to ensure the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust will not be forgotten, he promised that a national Holocaust memorial and education centre will be built

“so that future generations can never doubt what happened”.

He added: “Because that is the only way we can be certain that it will never happen again.”

The UK government also announced today that it is making a £1m donation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help preserve the site and ensure the Holocaust is never forgotten.

You can can read more about Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 here.

We must never forget what happened. We must work to stop such events from happening again.

Quote of the day for Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2020

"Even in the midst of darkness, it is possible to create light and share warmth with one another; that even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream exalted dreams of compassion"

(Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Music Spot: "Lord let me know mine end" by Maurice Greene

Quote of the day 26th January 2020

"The M1 took 35 years from first proposal to its opening. Otherwise no significant transport corridor North from London has been built since Queen Victoria's reign.

All our existing corridors, road and rail, are choked. As this century proceeds, with new housing new towns, new landscape protections, it's going to get harder to break through. Yet transport pressure is intense and must grow.

This year a new corridor is nearing readiness. And having talked ourselves into it, we're now in danger of talking ourselves out of it again.

We must be crazy."

(Matthew Parris demonstrates that when he stops obsessing about Brexit he is still sometimes capable of hitting nails directly on the head in a Times article,

"We owe it to the next generation to build HS2.")

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Boris Johnson signs EU Withdrawal agreement

Yesterday the EU withdrawal agreement was signed, first by EU leaders in Brussels, and then it was taken by Eurostar to London and signed by Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

The agreement has been ratified and written into law by the UK parliament: it still has to be ratified by the European Parliament, and a vote is expected on Wednesday. Ratification was supported by the EP's constitutional committee last Thursday and the full parliament is expected to take the same view on Wednesday.
Boris Johnson said that the signing "finally delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division."

He added: "We can now move forward as one country - with a government focused upon delivering better public services, greater opportunity and unleashing the potential of every corner of our brilliant UK, while building a strong new relationship with the EU as friends and sovereign equals."

The new EU Council President Charles Michel tweeted: "Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies."

Erdoğan takes Turkey back to Old Testament times.

There was a time when he was elected Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003 when it was possible to see the country's current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party as a moderate, modernising force which could lead Turkey in the direction of being a successful and normal 21st century society.

It's no coincidence that it was at that stage of his leadership of Turkey that British statesmen who were subsequently to end up on both sides of the Brexit debate - including both David Cameron and Boris Johnson -  thought that it was reasonable to hope that Turkey might join the EU. one of thye most damaging aspects of the EU referendum campaign was that comments on this subject which had been made in the first decade of the 21st century while Turkey was on the road to reform were repeated out of context in the following decade by which time the government of Turkey had completely reversed direction.

Turkey is one of very few majority Islamic states - the most other obvious example is Bangladesh - which had evolved their own version of the separation of church and state. Which makes what has happened in the country in the last couple of years of Erdoğan's premiership and during his presidency all the more tragic.

In the early part of his premiership Erdoğan made attempts, some more serious than others but attempts nevertheless, to reconcile Turks and Muslims with Kurds, Greece, Israel and Armenia and with Jews and Christians. He almost doubled the number of universities in Turkey, encouraged people of both sexes to go to them, and launched a campaign called "Come on girls, let's go to school!" (in Turkish, "Haydi Kızlar Okula!"). The goal of this campaign was to close the gender-gap in primary school enrollment through the provision of a quality basic education for all girls, especially in southeast Turkey.

Sadly in the last few years much of this reform agenda has gone into reverse, with anyone who criticises Erdoğan's government liable to be sacked, prosecuted, or both. In 2017 it was suggested that Turkey appears to have imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world and more than North Korea, Russia, Cuba and China put together. A 2017 law effectively makes it illegal for the Turkish parliament to investigate the executive branch of government.

It is perhaps in the treatment of women that the promise of Erdoğan's early years has most disappointingly been not just abandoned but put backwards. Turkey used to have a reputation as one of the most positive countries in the middle east on the subject of women's rights: I referred above to the campaign to get girls to school.In 2004 as PM Erdoğan and the AK Party doubled the sentence for child abusers and removed the law giving men convicted of statutory rape more lenient treatment if they marry their victim which they now propose to bring back.

The idea that victims of rape or child abuse might be helped by having to marry their rapist originates in Old Testament times, and that is where it belongs. If there had been any doubt President Erdoğan and the AK Party are dragging Turkey backwards into the past, the news they are bringing forward a bill to release men who have been sentenced for committing statutory rape on condition they marry their victim must remove it.

Saturday music spot: Elizabethan Serenade

This piece of music is "Elizabethan Serenade" performed by the Ronald Binge orchestra.
The paintings in the accompanying video are by Vladimir Volegov.

Quote of the day 25th January 2020

Friday, January 24, 2020

My political compass score

I seem to be becoming more socially libertarian with age.

A social media post having given me the impression that the "Political Compass site had refreshed their questions, I took the test again this evening and got the following result

Economic Left/Right: 4.38
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.69

In other words they put me to the right of centre on economics, but not quite so far to the right that I couldn't legitimately describe myself as "centre right" which is fair enough, but well into the libertarian quadrant, further "south" than I have found myself in the past, on social issues.

It's no surprise to find myself in the lower right quadrant for those who are liberal in the classical sense of the word on both economic and social issues. But in the past I have usually been just below the line dividing the top and bottom halves of a political field on the "political compass" basis and this time I have come out nearly as far  below the centre as I am to the right of it.

Political Compass also provided me with an electronic "certificate" showing where I stand relative to various historical and contemporary figures. Most of them make sense but I did a double take to find Hilary Clinton in about the position in which I would place Margaret Thatcher (as PM.)

I suspect there may be some debate about that one ...

Watching out for human trafficking in Cumbria

Open slavery was abolished in this country centuries ago. But the practice refuses to die and keeps taking new forms.

Referring to training being provided by "Hope for Justice" on how to spot signs of human trafficking and modern slavery, Cumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said:

“Most of us think of slavery as a practice left in history. However, this is not the case. 

“Vulnerable people who are looking for a better life are being exploited by criminals to work in horrendous conditions for little to no money and are being excluded from society. 

“This is the most despicable exploitation of people at their most vulnerable and there is no place for it here in Cumbria. 

“This training is essential for all agencies that may come in to contact with these victims as they have often been taught to fear authorities by their exploiters. 

“I applaud this training and I am sure it will benefit those who have received it as well as the victims.” 

Slavery and Human trafficking are of huge concern in Cumbria and agencies have come together to provide training and awareness to help create a safer county.

Safer Cumbria, a multi-agency partnership. has been bringing people from the fields of criminal justice and community safety together to co-ordinate their activities and better protect the public.

They have been paying particular attention to the problems of modern slavery. Victims, often immigrants who come to the UK on the promise of a better life, have been forced into working long hours, on less than the minimum wage in uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous working conditions.

Hope for Justice, a charity that aims to ‘bring an end to modern slavery by preventing exploitation, rescuing victims, restoring lives and reforming society’, provided a training session from funding granted to Safer Cumbria from the police budget to fight modern slavery.

Sandra Radcliffe, modern slavery and human trafficking co-ordinator for Safer Cumbria said:

“Modern slavery and human trafficking is happening in Cumbria and we need to ensure we are all confident in the processes around dealing with victims. 

“I really appreciate the interest from our partners in attending this event and the funding we have received in order to deliver it.”

Terry "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition" Jones RIP

One of the iconic comedy lines from my childhood was "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

For those who don't remember it, after various characters in one episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" had said things like

"I didn't expect a sort of Spanish Inquisition about it,"

the "Spanish Inquisition" consisting of Terry Jones as 'Cardinal Biggles' and two other Python cast members dressed as Spanish soldiers would burst in, Jones would exclaim,

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

and they would subject the person who had not been expecting them to various "tortures" such as sitting in a comfy chair.

When the news came out that Jones had died earlier this week at the age of 77, Stephen Fry tweeted

"Farewell Terry Jones. The great foot has come down to stamp on you" 

(a reference to another Monty Python comic motif.)

Terry Gilliam, with whom Jones directed the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in 1975, described his fellow Python as a

 "brilliant, constantly questioning, iconoclastic, righteously argumentative and angry but outrageously funny and generous and kind human being". 

He was a titan of comedy and he will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

The Manchester child abuse case disaster deserves far more attention

People who abuse children belong in prison regardless of the colour of their skin and that of their victims.

No race has a monopoly of this kind of evil. Sadly there are child abusers in this country of every race, of both genders, and of every religious and cultural orientation. And every one of them if the evidence exists to do so, should be prosecuted.

The disastrous mishandling of the case of the Manchester grooming gang, and the abandonment of Operation Augusta, is yet another sorry example of the catastrophic effect on our justice system wrought by a toxic combination of identity politics and cowardice.

And the victims of this catastrophic failure have been some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

The fact that this cowardice continues is demonstrated by the inadequate level of press coverage of the horrifying report into what happened in Manchester, as Charlotte Henry rightly argues here.

Let me be absolutely clear.

White men who groom and rape children belong in prison

Black men who groom and rape children belong in prison

Brown men who groom and rape children belong in prison

Women of whatever race who abuse children or help others to do so also belong in prison

Anyone in authority who fails to act on evidence that vulnerable children are being abused because they are afraid of being called racist is guilty of the neglect of their duty.

And Manchester is only the latest in a string of too many parts of the country where there is evidence of exactly that kind of dereliction of duty.

I don't think there is an easy way to completely stamp out the horrible crime of child abuse - I wish there were. But we have to look for ways to make our efforts to protect the vulnerable and put the guilty behind bars more effective. More police resources is a start. But we also have to go back to some fundamental principles - the accused are innocent until proven guilty, but the authorities must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

In this country we've somehow managed at the same time to destroy the lives of people who were  innocent of child abuse by pre-judging as "credible and true" false accusations from liars and fantasists like Karl Beech, while others who were guilty got away with it for far too long.

There was also at least one high-profile case where a distinguished public servant had the last year of his life wrecked through a case of mistaken identity caused by inadequate care by the authorities, where a genuine victim was shown a wrongly identified photographs, and it was only when  a consequent mistaken allegation had been make public without adequate checks and broadcast on television that it was realised that the wrong person had had their reputation destroyed. That case may have been a one-off but it is an example of the sort of mistake which must not be allowed to happen again.

We have to do better. More must be done to follow up evidence and prosecute the guilty without pre-judging that evidence or falling into the trap of the kind of hysteria which might result in wrecking the lives of the innocent. And where there is evidence that a vulnerable child or young person is at risk it ought to be possible to deo more to protect those vulnerable people without pre-judging the guilt or innocence of those who may, or might not, subsequently be charged with wrongdoing.

Quote of the day 24th January 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cumbria's MPs meet to promote interests of County's residents

New and re-elected MPs representing Cumbria, Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness), Trudy Harrison (Copeland), Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and the Border), Mark Jenkinson (Workington) and John Stevenson (Carlisle) have agreed to continue their frequent meetings to promote Cumbria in Westminster.

Workington MP Mark Jenkinson said:

“I was pleased to see that there was an established mechanism for Cumbrian MPs to work together on joint projects; creating a stronger voice in Westminster for our county. 

"Issues such as infrastructure have knock on benefits to other constituencies and this joined up approach can only benefit Cumbria.” 

Carlisle MP John Stevenson added: “Cumbrian MPs have always worked together for the benefit of Cumbria, when they can find common ground and in previous parliaments this has paid dividends. 

"I am pleased that these discussions and common projects will continue to drive growth and success in Cumbria.” 

And Copeland MP Trudy Harrison echoed their thoughts, saying: “It is great to be working with colleagues who share a common ambition for Cumbria, working together without the divisions of politics ensures the focus is on progress.” 

Barrow and Furness MP Simon Fell said that these meetings were crucial to ensure 'Cumbria’s voice is heard in Westminster'.

EU Withdrawal agreement bill becomes law

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has become law after it received royal assent from the Queen, having cleared all its stages in parliament.

Deputy speaker Nigel Evans confirmed in the House of Commons that the bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement has now become law as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the moment was a significant milestone.

“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” he said.

The deal still has to be ratified by the European Parliament.

Nevertheless it is now clear that Britain will leave the European Union on 31st January.

Quote of the day: "Scotland said no and we meant it!"

"Scotland said no, and we meant it"

(Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the SNP,  at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday)

He was talking about Brexit, but as the Prime Minister pointed out, the words are even more appropriate to Scottish independence: in the 2014 the people of Scotland were offered independence and by 55% to 45% they voted No.

And they meant it.

And it's about time the SNP listened to the people of Scotland, accepted the decision that Scottish voters made, and got on with the day job of sorting out the problems with the Scottish NHS, the Scottish education system, and the economy of Scotland instead of fantasising about another referendum.

If they can't do that they have no business lecturing anyone else about democracy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

We have just had the best decade in human history to date ...

On most objective measures, the decade which has just ended was the best in human history.

But we don't want to believe it.

Our brains evolved to focus on protecting us against threats which makes us prone to a bias in favour or pessimism.

Matt Ridley tweeted ironically yesterday that

"If you asked chimpanzees whether extreme poverty has doubled, halved, or stayed the same by writing the answers on three bananas, they would get the right answer six times as often as people do:"

More on this subject on the "Rational Optimist" podcast here.

Midweek music spot: "A walk in the Black Forest."

Quote of the day 22nd January 2020

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Notes from today's marathon meeting of Copeland Local Committee

More to follow later this week, but today's meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland included the following

1) We had an extremely informative presentation on Universal Credit and what is being done to improve it and help people for whom it has not worked from the Department of Work and Pensions and

2) We approved next year's capital budget and a number of grants

3) We heard important presentations on Road safety and the county council's service caring for vulnerable children in Copeland and Allerdale

4) We also discussed the need for a better bridge over the River Duddon at Duddon Bridge, one of the least satisfactory points on the A595 (a road with many places which need improving)

5) Do Cumbria Libraries stock John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress?"

Yes, the library does stock that book, there are at least nine copies which should be available.

Watch this space ...

Monday is Holocaust Memorial Day

This coming Monday, 27th January 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auchwitz and will be commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend next Monday's national Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative ceremony in Westminster. The Duke will give a reading and the couple will meet Holocaust survivors and survivors of subsequent genocides.

Holocaust memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman explained that

"Holocaust Memorial Day is particularly significant this year as we mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau,"

She added that

"The UK ceremony is the national focal point for more than 10,000 Holocaust Memorial Day activities which are taking place in community settings from schools to libraries, and from councils to prisons. At every event to mark the day, people know more about the past, develop empathy for others, and commit to taking action to create a better future."

The theme for HMD 2020 is Stand Together.

Throughout history, murderous regimes have deliberately divided and fractured societies by marginalising particular groups of human being as scapegoats and used them to divert blame and hostility.

For example, in the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. Nazi persecution of both Jews and other groups in society leading up to mass murder and genocide was enabled by dividing people from one another.
Today, as we see increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. we need now more than ever to stand together with others in our communities and stop the spread of identity-based hostility in our society.

You can read more about how to take part in Holocaust Memorial day here.

Quote of the day 21st January 2020

Monday, January 20, 2020

One voter's journey from Corbyn campaigner to Conservative voter

There is an interesting article on Spiked and in longer form on her own blog by Alice Bragg on how she went from being an active campaigner for Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn from 2015 through to 2018, to voting Conservative in the 2019 general election.

She has an interesting perspective. After describing how she became disillusioned with Labour and the Corbyn project she continues:

"As I write this, I am acutely aware of the consternation this may provoke among other Labour supporters and activists. Many have spoken to me openly and honestly about the concerns they have about a Conservative government and the impact it might have on their families and their community. The simple answer is that I voted Conservative because I believe Brexit must happen as soon as possible. By denying communities their political will to leave the EU, Labour became incapable of representing them.

And yet, I still believe Corbyn was the spark for a genuine and vital movement for change. Although he lacked the qualities to deliver on his promises, the excitement around the Corbyn project, particularly in the north and the Midlands, should not be forgotten. There is no reason why, with the right leader, Labour cannot enthuse people again. But for me personally to come back to Labour, there would need to be a credible economic blueprint to reshape the economy; the party would need enough confidence to bring in good people, based on merit, and retain them; and it would need to continue to support local campaigns by developing policy solutions and not just promising more and more funding. But most importantly, the Labour Party must have the will to unify the country and a vision that includes us all. Without that, it will continue to alienate its natural supporters."
You can read Alice Bragg's article at Spiked here or in slightly longer form on her own blog here.

Quote of the day 20th January 2020

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday music spot "O Thou the central orb" by Charles Wood

The left's "Trickle Down" fabrication

I see that Sir Keir Starmer, one of the candidates to take over as leader of the Labour party, has been repeating a very old fabrication - the idea that supporters of free-market economics believe in something called "trickle down" theory.

He tweeted that the free market model has failed and that "trickle down didn't happen."

This is misleading nonsense - "Trickle Down" theory is a straw man fabrication which left-wingers put up in order to knock it down, and bears very little resemblance to what supporters of the free-market actually think. The term was originally coined by American humorist William Rogers as a joke in 1932 and was initially used by Democrats in the USA to describe the policies which they claimed that US Republicans supported - a claim vehemently refuted by those same Republicans  - and it has now started to be used by left-wing politicians in Britain in the same misleading way. I have never heard of a case where a serious economist has argued in favour of "trickle down" theory or a government which has said it was following such a policy.

The "Trickle Down" myth misrepresents the case for the free market in at least two serious respects

1) It implies that free marketeers only believe in tax cuts for the rich, the impact of which will supposedly then "trickle down" to the poor (an idea which it is extremely easy to disprove.)

Actually most free-market supporters believe in tax cuts for people at every level of income, including those on low incomes.

For example, far and away the largest tax cuts made by the coalition and Conservative governments in the UK since 2010, for instance, has been the increase in income tax thresholds which have meant that millions of low paid workers no longer have to pay income tax at all.

People on the centre right don't imagine that you can magically help the low paid by cutting tax on the rich, we want to directly reduce - and in some cases eliminate - the tax paid by the low paid as well, so that they too will gain a higher share of the reward for extra work that they do and will  benefit from better incentives.

2) It ignores the distinction between tax rates and total tax revenue.

When tax rates reach punitive levels, they provide a strong disincentive to effort and investment. Above certain rates, there is plenty of evidence that extremely high tax rates bring in less revenue in the long run by distorting the economy and cutting savings and investment.

When Mrs Thatcher's government cut the top rates of tax in the UK, which had been 98 pence in the pound or 83 pence in the pound depending on the type of income, to 60% (and later to 40%) the amount of tax and the share of tax paid by the people subject to those rates didn't go down.   In fact they paid more - more money in absolute terms and more as a proportion of total tax revenue.

Removing punitive tax rates isn't necessarily about giving money to the rich - it can be about getting more money out of them in the long term.

I include clips by two economists on the subject. First, here is one by Thomas Sowell, who challenged the left to provide a single example of a serious economist who supported "trickle down" theory. Nobody has produced a convincing example.

And here Steven Horwitz, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University, makes a similar point.

It's a shame that people on the left can't engage with and debate with what people on the centre-right actually think instead of creating myths like "trickle down" economics to knock down.

Quote of the day 19th January 2020

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Cancer Tests save lives

The earlier cancer is caught, the better the outcomes. Both the chances of survival for five years, and quality of life while one is still alive, are far better if cancer is discovered and treated earlier.

That's why cancer screening for both women and men is really important: it needs to be improved and should be taken up.

I was extremely disappointed to learn this weekend that the latest figures for take-up of cervical smear tests in North and West Cumbria is only 80%. 15,964 women who were eligible for a smear test did not have one.

Next week is Cervical cancer prevention week and a number of campaigns are planned to spread awareness and encourage higher takeup.

Every woman who is invited to have a smear cervical smear test would be very well advised to take it up - and already this year one caring business in West Cumbria, the playgroup Tot Spot repeated the offer of free childcare while mums have the test.

The owner of Tot Spot, Angela Greasley, first offered free childcare for the cause in November 2018, after the story of Workington woman Susan Rumney losing her battle with cervical cancer opened her eyes to the danger of ignoring a smear test.

While Tot Spot usually charges £4 for half an hour of care, or £12 for two hours, the offer of free childcare in exchange for attending a smear test is always on the table.

Bernard Wooley RIP

Actor Derek Fowlds, who played the civil servant Bernard Wooley in "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" died yesterday at the age of 82.

He was a wonderful actor and according to those who worked with him, a kind and lovely man.

He had many of the best lines in the show, as in this clip in which he talks about defence capabilities:

He was also a perfect foil for other actors such as Nigel Hawthorne, as in this scene where "Sir Humphry" explains how to get the result you want from an opinion poll:

Derek Fowlds also appeared in "Heartbeat" and the Basil Brush show.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday music spot: The Monkees sing "Last Train to Clarksville"

As a small child I loved the comedy show "The Monkees," which featured a band originally put together for the show, and shown here clowning around in two clips from the show.

I remember watching and listening to this song and scenes like these. However, at the time I had no idea of the hidden bite behind the comedy in the form of the huge significant of the words at the time to contemporary young American men: Clarksville was where many of them had to report on being drafted before being sent to serve in Vietnam.

Hence the line "and I don't know if I'm ever coming home" was a reference to the possibility of being killed in action.

Quote of the day 18th January 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

Statement from Cumbria NHS confirming Accident & Emergency at WCH stays open

The North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust has put out a briefing and media statement explaining that, although they are reviewing how to maintain Accident and Emergency service (A&E) at West Cumberland Hospital (WCH) in Whitehaven, there is no question of closing the service at night or at any other time.

Lyn Simpson Chief Executive of North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (NCIC) said, 

“The Trust is committed to the outcome of the public consultation made in March 2017 for a 24/7 Accident & Emergency provision at West Cumberland Hospital.”

The trust has reaffirmed its commitment to the outcome of the public consultation to retain a 24/7 Accident & Emergency provision at West Cumberland Hospital. 

The full statement reads as follows

Media Statement

Prof John Howarth, Deputy Chief Executive said, “We do have some forthcoming staffing challenges and so clinical leaders in the team are reviewing our current arrangements.  We will be working with local community groups to find a long term sustainable solution to these challenges that will enable us to keep A&E open 24/7.

“Next month we will be launching engagement activities that we are currently designing with community groups to understand priorities of the community for the £33m capital investment that has been secured for the next phase of the West Cumberland Hospital redevelopment.  This is a significant investment that will enable us to deliver high quality modern health care services for the residents of West Cumbria.”

Lyn Simpson Chief Executive of North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (NCIC) said, “The Trust is committed to the outcome of the public consultation made in March 2017 for a 24/7 Accident & Emergency provision at West Cumberland Hospital.”

Quote of the day 17th January 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Quote of the day 14th January 2020

“It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.” 

(Resignation statement and apology to the people of Iran from Gelare Jabbari, in an Instagram post, after she left her position as an Iranian State TV anchor on becoming convinced that she was being used to disseminate falsehood and propaganda.)

Monday, January 13, 2020

Copeland Local Committee

As I posted last week, the January meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland will be held at 10.15 am at Cleator Moor Civic Hall on 21st January 2020.

The meeting will be open to the public. The agenda and most of the supporting papers have now gone up on the council website here. (There are two more to follow.)

I have been to a few council meetings in the last few months where the agenda was a bit light, in some cases so much so that one did wonder whether it would have been better to save public money by cancelling them, but this one is not light in any way shape or form.

The agenda includes the following:

6. Universal Credit

To receive presentations from representatives from the Department of Work and Pensions and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau on the functioning of the Universal Credit system and it's impact on local people.

7. Third Sector Waste

To receive a presentation from the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure

8. Road Safety Update 

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure. The purpose of this report is to raise awareness of the road safety management arrangements and activities that the Cumbria Road Safety Partnership currently has in place.

10. Countryside and Access Team Annual Report

11. 2019/20 Local Committee Devolved Highways Budget

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure. This report presents the Highways Devolved Budget Finance figures including an update on the Highways Revenue and Capital Programme.

12. Draft Highways Capital and Revenue Budgets 2020/2021

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure (to follow).

13. Copeland Highways Working Group

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure (copy enclosed). This report provides details of the meeting of the Highways Working Group held on 17 December 2019 and presents recommendations for the Local Committee to consider.

14. Millom TRO (Traffic Regulation Order)

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure (to follow).

15. Area Planning Report

To consider a report by the Executive Director – Corporate, Customer and Community Services. This report provides Copeland Local Committee with an update on work and activity undertaken to promote and progress local area planning since its last meeting. It is also to advise Members of the council on the current budget position.

Quote of the day 13th January 2020

"If you don’t believe in free speech for people who you disagree with, and even hate for what they stand for, then you don’t believe in free speech."

(Ricky Gervais on twitter yesterday)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Roger Scruton RIP

The family of Sir Roger Scruton have issued the following statement today:

"Announcement 12th January 2020

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Roger Scruton, FBA, FRSL. Beloved husband of Sophie, adored father to Sam and Lucy and treasured brother of Elizabeth and Andrea, he died peacefully on Sunday 12th January. He was born on 27th February 1944 and had been fighting cancer for the last 6 months. His family are hugely proud of him and of all his achievements."

Sir Roger was one of Britain's most distinguished academics. He managed to clear his name last year after being sacked as an unpaid government advisor after the New Statesman selectively quoted an interview he gave the magazine in a way which they subsequently accepted "did not accurately represent his views."

Both the magazine and the government apologised to him.

Rest in Peace.

Sunday music spot: "I Was Glad" by Sir Charles Parry

Quote of the day 12th January 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Saturday music spot: Händel's "Dixit Dominus" first movement

Quote of the day 11th January 2020

"What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should ban it.

When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long."

(Thomas Sowell)

Friday, January 10, 2020

January meeting of the CCC Copeland local committee

The January meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland will be held at 10.15 am at Cleator Moor Civic Hall on 21st January 2020.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda will become available here early in the week before the meeting (e.g. next week at the time of putting up this post.)

Friday music spot: Gluck - Dance of the Furies

Quote of the day 10th January 2020

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Notes from today's meeting of Cumbria County Council

1) Near the start of the meeting there was a very good presentation by the Chief Constable of Cumbria constabulary.

Her talk was well received and prompted half an hour of questions

2) This was followed by a presentation from the council of children in care.

3) Under questions I asked about the status of proposals under consideration by Durham County Council to introduce fluoridisation, which if it goes ahead will affect not just their own area but parts of several neighbouring authorities, including about 2,345 residents of Cumbria in the Alston area.

The Portfolio Holder replied that Durham County Council has asked the government in mid December for permission to hold a consultation on this issue. At the moment they are awaiting a decision from the Secretary of State for Health, which they hope to receive by the end of January.

There is a legal requirement for a thorough consultation with all the areas affected, which must take place over a period of at least 12 months and is likely to be carried out this Summer.

More details will be published in due course if the Secretary of State gives permission for this issue to be considered.  Watch this space.

4) In accordance with the recommendation from the independent panel, the Labour leader put forward a proposal to increase councillors' allowances by 2% from April. 

(This is in line with the pay offer made to staff. The current rate of inflation is 2.2% on the RPI measure or 1.5% on the CPI measure.)

The proposal was carried on the votes of Labour and Lib/Dem councillors. The Conservative group, including myself, abstained.  

5) At the conclusion of the meeting there were four speeches from members of the council, including one from myself on the importance of working for further improvements to the A595.

Music to relax after a council meeting: Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 ("Elvira Madigan") 2nd Movement

Quote of the day 9th January 2020

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Tuesday music spot: Bach's Variations on "Wachet Auf", No. 1

Cognitive diversity

There was an interesting weekend essay by Matthew Syed in The Times a couple of days ago about  cognitive diversity with the title

"The truth is that great minds don't think alike."

The point he was making is that if you are assembling a team of people to do a job then in the vast majority of  cases - with a few exceptions such as a relay racing team - the way to get the most effective team is to include a mix of different abilities and skills.

The essay gives as an example of when this approach was used particularly successfully of the Bletchley Park codebreaking team which broke the Enigma codes. As well as great mathematical minds like Alan Turing the team at Bletchley was deliberately set up to include other type of thinkers, both men and women, and people with non-mathematical skills including people with skills such as doing crosswords. This intellectually diverse team was better able to crack the codes and get inside the heads of the German Enigma operators by coming at the problem from different angles.

I presume this is what the PM's senior advisor, Dominic Cummings meant when he suggested that Number Ten wants to recruit - "super-talented weirdos" - a strategy which will of course work better if it means moving away from a stereotype of what kind of person they do and do not want to recruit than it will if it means replacing one stereotype with a different one.

The comment from Thomas Sowell about asking academics how many Conservatives there are in their sociology department which was my quote of the day yesterday morning will usually have been interpreted as a joke or as a dig at the left. But actually it makes a serious point. Diversity of ideas is a great strength in most teams.

Quote of the day 7th January 2020

"Hand on heart, did we deserve to win the general election? 

"Probably not, so the British public got it right."

(Sadiq Khan, Labour Mayor of London. I don't often agree with Mayor Khan, but I'm certainly not going to argue with him on this one.)

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Twelfth Night music spot: "Three Kings" from King's

Today is Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, as the church starts to look to Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi (also known as the Wise Men, or in mythology the Three Kings.)

So what more appropriate piece for the last music spot of this Christmas season than "Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar" sung by the choir of King's college Cambridge?

Swimathon 2020

I have signed up for Swimathon 2020, to swim 5000 metres at Copeland pool in Hensingham.

Swimathon is the world's largest swimming charity fundraising event. Between 27th and 29th March, I will be one of more than 21,000 swimmers who head down to their local pool, or one of more than 600 swimming pools around the UK which are taking part, to raise money for two incredibly important charities.

I have taken part in the Swimathon every year since 1994 to help a wide variety of important causes, but there is none more important than helping people living with cancer.

Cancer Research UK, the world’s leading cancer charity is dedicated to saving lives through funding research to help prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Cancer Research UK are the only charity fighting over 200 cancer types but don't receive any government funding for their work, so their progress is all thanks to the support of people like you.

Marie Curie provides expert care, guidance and support for people living with any terminal illness, and their families. Around 2,100 Marie Curie Nurses work day and night, in people’s homes all over the UK, providing hands-on care to people when they need it most.

Together those who take part in and support events like Swimathon 2020 can make a difference.

Please sponsor me or other participants to help find more effective cures for cancer and to help people who are living with the condition.

My Swimathon 2020 fundraising page is here.

Thank you again to everyone who has sponsored me for past Swimathon events (and the person who has already sponsored me for 2020 in the short time between my putting up my JustGiving page and writing this post!) and thank you in advance to everyone who sponsors me or other participants this year and in the future.

Quote of the day 5th January 2020

Thursday, January 02, 2020

2020 New Year's Honours list

I don't know how I managed to miss it, but in addition to the Cumbrians I have already mentioned, Gina Tiller, who was Chair of the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust until last year, was also awarded the MBE in the 2020 New Year's Honours list.

The list of Cumbrians honoured includes:
  • Paul Foster, departing head of Sellafield, CBE for "services to business" 
  • John Hudson, BAE Systems, CBE for "services to the Royal Navy and to Naval Shipbuilding and Design." 
  • Sascha Hilary Wells-Munro of Kendal, OBE "for services to the NHS and patient safety." 
  • Ben Stokes of Cockermouth and the England cricket team, OBE "for Services to Sport." 
  • Professor John Howarth, Deputy Chief Executive of the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust and local GP, MBE for "services to General Practice." 
  • Gina Tiller, former Chair of NCUH, MBE "for services to healthcare in Cumbria." 
  • Elizabeth Cornford of Grange-over-Sands, MBE "for services to Young People." 
  • John Butler of Ulverston, MBE, "for services to Further Education." 
  • Mark McCree of Kendal, British Empire Medal (BEM) "for services to Public Libraries." 
  • John Shakeshaft of Ulverston, BEM "for services to Young People in Ulverston." 
  • Cassandra Rees of Greenheys, BEM "for services to the Community in Cumbria."

Thursday Carol: In The Bleak Midwinter, Gustav Holst version

Yesterday's carol was "In the Bleak mid-winter" set to music by Harold Darke.

But there is an equally lovely version set to music by Gustav Holst …