Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lockdown diary, day 37

Another day working from home.

A few more virtual meetings being set up: signs that people are adapting to making better use of new technology.

A challenge for those of us, like myself, in the telecommunications industry to make sure our infrastructure can cope with it.

I've already referred to the "Clap for Carers" and to Captain Tom's birthday. Also good news that we clearly now seem to be past the peak of the first wave of the pandemic.

To steal a line from the late Ian Fleming,

But, but, but and again, but ...

The challenge is going to be to balance the understandable wish to get the economy going again with the need to make sure we continue to protect lives.

I'm told that every major pandemic in history had more than one wave. Most often three.

We cannot afford to assume that this one won't do the same.

We must make sure when measures are taken to partially relax the lockdown that we continue to modify our behaviour to minimise transmission of disease and that we are better prepared for the second wave, to minimise the number of people it kills.

This is not over.

Britain needs to play the long game. The important thing is to get the balance right.

And all the people on either side of the argument who are announcing that the UK government has done well or badly are a bit like the people calling the result of a test cricket match half way through the first of the five days of play.

Keep well.

Arron Banks is owed an apology

I am no fan of Arron Banks.

I utterly disagree with many of the things he said and did during the Referendum campaign.

That does not stop me from feeling unease at the way he has been treated by the media and I think there are a fair number of people who owe him an apology.

When the Electoral Commission referred Mr Banks to the National Crime Agency in 2018 on the basis that they said they had "reasonable grounds to suspect" that he might have broken electoral laws concerning on the real source of money he donated to campaigns to leave the EU, there was wall to wall coverage in the press.

People should have been able to reasonably assume that the Commission would only do and say something like that if they actually had some evidence to back it up. And a lot of people, most of whom should have known better spoke and wrote as if the case was not just made but proved.

I've lost count of the number of times I have seen the view expressed, including in posts on this blog's comment threads, my Facebook page, and just about every other social media channel I can think of, that criminal behaviour and breaches of the rules by Mr Banks and Vote Leave invalidated the result of the referendum.

When  the National Crime Agency cleared Mr Banks on all these charges last year, saying that there was, quote "no evidence" to support them, this did not get anything like the same level of publicity.

And if the National Crime Agency says there was no evidence, one has to ask why the Electoral Commission thought they had reasonable grounds to ask for an investigation.

There has been next to no coverage of the fact that this week the Electoral Commission has accepted the findings of the National Crime Agency in respect of the charges they had made against Arron Banks and Liz Bilney, the CEO of Leave.EU.

I learn from Guido Fawkes that

"The Electoral Commission considers it was right to refer this matter to the NCA for further investigation, but confirms that it accepts 

(a) the NCA’s conclusions that it found no evidence that any criminal offences have been committed under PPERA or company law by Mr Banks or Ms Bilney; and 
(b) the NCA had not received any evidence to suggest that Mr Banks or his companies received funding from any third party."

E.g. no evidence that any of the money for Leave.EU came from Putin.

The official Electoral Commission statement says

"The National Crime Agency, after its own investigation, has 
(i) concluded that there is no evidence that any criminal offences have been committed under PPERA or company law by any of the individuals or organisations referred to it by the Electoral Commission; and 
(ii) has stated that it has not received any evidence to suggest that Mr Banks and his companies received funding from any third party to fund the loans subject to the investigation, or that Mr Banks acted as an agent on behalf of a third party. 
The Electoral Commission accepts these conclusions."

I'm really not impressed that news sources which gave such a lot of publicity to the allegations against Arron Banks have given so little publicity to the fact that even the body which brought the charges now accepts that there was no evidence for them.

You don't have to like Mr Banks to think that quite a few people owe him an apology.

Fantastic support for the latest "Clap for carers"

Again around the country there has been fantastic support for the 8pm "clap for carers."

Meanwhile Captain Tom's Just Giving page shows that he has now raised an amazing £32.5 million for NHS charities on the final day.

It closes at midnight tonight, so if you want to make a donation you have two and a half hours from the time this post goes up, and can do so here.

Happy birthday Captain Tom.

Around Britain, people have been wishing a happy hundredth birthday today to Captain Tom Moore, who epitomises the way people in Britain came together to help one another through the COVID-19 pandemic

It began when this 99-year old WW2 war veteran decided to raise a thousands pounds by walking a hundred times round his garden to raise money for local NHS charities as a thank you for the NHS.

Because thi toughed the hearts of millions of people, as of this morning he had raised nearly thirty million pounds, and inspired a number one hit version of "You'll never walk alone."

He has received more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand birthday cards for his hundredth birthday. including one from M.M. the Queen, who has also promoted him to Honorary Colonel.

Here is one of the many tributes to him - and to NHS workers and carers - you can find on YouTube.

Quote of the day 30th April 2020

"Together we will beat this enemy"

(Colonel - as he now is - Tom Moore quoted on the front page of one of today's newspapers)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Lockdown diary, day 36

Another miserable day, this time with miserable weather.

With most of the country either working from home, studying at home, or stuck at home on furlough, the country's broadband network has been tested to its limits - my family's connection certainly has.

However, despite all the issues Copeland Council managed to collect our recycling: well done to all the people concerned.

Lets of people have  been keeping things going in the most trying circumstances: well done to all of them.

The "gotcha" journalists who have fed us a diet of unceasing negativity have completely failed to read the room. It's not that people don't want difficult questions asked - it is that they want them balanced with the positive stories which warm the heart and help cheer us up. 

And there is no shortage of those stories if you bother to look - from Captain Tom to the baby born to the PM and his fiance Carrie Symons. Some parts of the media have got this: my local paper the Whitehaven News, and some of the other local papers in Cumbria, are full of stories of how people are coming together to help one another., 

Keep well

Stay home; support the NHS; save lives.


Extending testing

From today, Coronavirus testing has been extended further to protect the most vulnerable and keep people safe.
  • Every day Britain is ramping up capacity to meet the target of 100,000 tests per day - and the ultimate aim is that anyone who needs a test will be able to have one.
  • Anyone displaying symptoms who is over 65, as well as people who have to leave their home for work can book a test online now – and so can their household. Testing has also been extended to all NHS and social care staff, care home residents and workers regardless of if they display symptoms of the virus or not.
  • This new expansion of testing, made possible due to rapidly increasing testing capacity, will help protect the most vulnerable and our healthcare staff and keep people safe.

Congratulatios to Boris and Carrie on the birth of their first child

Congratulations to the Prime Minister and his fiancé, Boris Johnson and Carrie Symons, on the birth of their first child, a healthy boy, who was born today. I gather mother and baby are doing well.

Quote of the day 29th April 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Lockdown diary, day 35

Another stressful work day. though until faily late this evening Whitehaven has been try and sunny today, unlike much of the rest of the country according to what colleagues have said on various work calls.

Thinking hard about how to push forward to encourage Cumbria County Council to do more on holding meetings virtually: at least things have started. But we are well behind some of the other councils in Cumbria.

Interesting that one of the meetings we held by Skype - and I'm not going to say which one, as maintaining goodwill to keep pushing things forward is more important than potentially embarrassing the guilty by allowing poor attenders to be identified - had a better attendance than I can recall any physical meeting of the body concerned getting.

Most councillors of all parties work extremely hard but there are a few in all parties who ought to be able to get to a higher proportion of the meetings they are elected to attend, and I hope this will be discussed with them by their respective parties when  deciding who should stand next time. 

Equally, should not the money paid out in travel expenses for councillors to come to meetings in Kendal or Carlisle be subject to some scrutiny? For example, in asking questions about whether some of those meetings could be held using remote systems such as Skype, Zoom or Teams, saving councillors a lot of travel time, and the public purse (and those councillors who do not claim every penny they're entitled to - I don't claim for travel to group meetings, for instance) thousands of pounds.

Keep well.

Tuesday music spot: Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence

More help for business

The Chancellor has announced a new Bounce Back Loans Scheme to ensure that businesses get the financial support they need quickly, to help them survive this crisis.
  • The Government’s emergency measures, including business grants, tax deferrals, and the job retention scheme, are already helping hundreds of thousands of small businesses weather the impact of coronavirus – but many need cash injections to keep operating.
  • Our new Bounce Back Loan Scheme enables small businesses to borrow up to £50,000 and access the cash within days. They are easy to apply for and the Government provides a 100 per cent guarantee for the loan to lenders.
  • This will offer additional protection to small firms, helping them get the finance they need so they can keep operating, protect jobs and incomes, and get through this crisis.

Help for the families of NHS and care workers who have died of COVID-19

There is no amount of money which can replace the loss of a son or daughter, a husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother.

But money can help with the suffering which would otherwise be caused by the loss of a breadwinner or carer.

That is why the Health Secretary has launched a new scheme to support the families of frontline health and care workers who die from coronavirus.

Health and care workers are on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus, putting the lives of patients ahead of their own.

While nothing can make up for the tragic loss of a loved one, we will do everything we can to support families of those health and care workers who lose their lives to this disease.

A new Life Assurance Scheme will provide £60,000 to the families of NHS frontline staff and social care workers who die from coronavirus.

We owe a huge debt to those who die in service to our nation and are doing everything we can to protect them.

As the country remembers our NHS heroes ...

This post is timed to appear at 11am, the start of the minute's silence for NHS and care home workers who have died from COVID-19.

A minute's silence at 11am today in memory of frontline carers who have died

The UK is to hold a minute's silence at 11am today (Tuesday 28th April 2020) in memory of those frontline NHS and care home workers who have died as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is estimated that 90 NHS and care home workers have so far died of COVID-19.

They put themselves at risk to protect and care for others and made the ultimate sacrifice for doing so. That sacrifice must not and will not be forgotten.

Quote of the day 28th April 2020

Mrs T was talking about political battles and the battle of ideas.

But I suspect the same thing may apply to the battle against COVID-19

Monday, April 27, 2020

Lockdown diary: Day 34

Today was a stressful day and very busy day which is why neither my "quote of the day" nor anything else was posted until after 9pm.

I spent a very large proportion of the day on conference calls.

Two of those calls would normally have been physical meetings, one of them in Kendal. I strongly agreed with the colleague who said that he hoped we would sometimes keep on with having conference calls after the COVID-19 pandemic for at least some of these meetings rather than drive from all over Cumbria to Kendal, at considerable expense in both time and (public) money.

Today was also the sort of day when lots of the computer and IT system one depends on both for work and to do council business were playing up. I thought that after nearly three years and three previous computers I finally had a County Council computer that worked, but it let me down today.

In the evening I discovered a rich vein of new parody songs on YouTube which adapt various well known songs with words adapted for COVID-19. I shall probably post some of the best of them on here as music spots, when I've decided if any are both good and not too far off-message.

Keep Well

Stay home: protect the NHS; save lives.

Monday music spot: "Yesterday" by the beatles

Comeback of the year

Dan Hodges to Alastair Campbell:

(Yes, the Alastair Campbell who was Tony Blair's chief spin doctor at the time of the invasion of Iraq)

"With respect Alastair, I’m not sure I’d be delivering lectures on perceived mistakes from British Prime Ministers that have lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths if I were you..."

The Finance Bill

Today, the Finance Bill had its Second Reading in Parliament – with measures to help deliver on Conservative promises to the British people in these challenging times.
  • We know that many people are worried about the impact of coronavirus on their lives, and we have set out an unprecedented package of measures to support jobs and businesses.
  • This Finance Bill is the first of this government– with measures to address the ‘taper problem’ in doctors’ pensions, reform Entrepreneurs’ Relief so that it genuinely works in the interests of small business owners, and increase R&D tax credits to significantly increase private R&D investment.
  • These measures are in addition to the Coronavirus Act, helping to protect life and the nation’s public health. This month, the National Living Wage also received its largest cash boost to £8.72, and we have a delivered a £100 tax cut for a typical employee by increasing the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 – putting more money in people’s pockets.
  • We are doing everything it takes to help our economy through this challenging time, ensuring people get the support they need to do the right thing, to stay at home, protect our NHS, save lives.

Mobile testing units

The Government has unveiled a network of mobile testing units, to ensure that all essential workers that need a Coronavirus test can get one.
  • With testing capacity rapidly increasing towards the goal of 100,000 a day, the Government has expanded testing eligibility so that all essential workers and their households can now be tested if they are displaying symptoms.
  • To ensure that everyone can access these tests, the Government is deploying mobile testing units, operated by the Armed Forces, which will be travelling around the country to help deliver testing where it is needed. There will be nearly 100 of these units deployed in the coming weeks.
  • These units will allow for hundreds of essential workers and their households to be tested each day, with results within 48 hours, so they can get back where they are needed – on the front line.

Your NHS is here for you

Free speech and peculiar opinions

There was a reason for my choice of the two quotes for today from Noam Chomsky - a men about which I agree with hardly anything else - who said that if we don't believe for free speech for views we despise, we don't believe in it at all.

I was inspired to make that choice of quote because I was deeply disappointed to read that a professor at my old University has said something that I find quite shameful.

You may be surprised to learn that what he has said to offend me was an attack on the new Leader of the Labour party.

You may be less surprised if I explain that the professor concerned appears to think the problem with Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party is that it was too tough on people accused of Anti-Semitism.

He also thinks that the new leader has basically been bought by "the Zionist movement."

Professor David Miller thinks that Sir Keir will sweep any investigation into the leak of the Labour Anti-Semitism report under the carpet because his leadership campaign received a donation from a prominent Labour donor and philanthropist, Sir Trevor Chinn, who happens to be Jewish and a supporter of the Jewish community.

Professor Miller said in an online broadcast, in reference to the leaked report, that

"We are obviously not going to get a proper investigation of this by Comrade Starmer or by Lisa Nandy – who have been in receipt of money from the Zionist movement, from Trevor Chinn."

Which brings me back to my quote of the day.

I don't believe my old University should take disciplinary action against the professor for this, because if you don't believe in free speech for views you despise, then you don't believe in free speech.

But perhaps the University of Bristol might consider making clear that Professor Miller's views are his own and he does not speak for the University.

Quotes of the day 27th April 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Do we need to start preparing for electronic voting in 2021?

There is a very thought-provoking piece by TSE (the poster formerly known as The Screaming Eagles) on the Political Betting site about how you organise elections safely in a pandemic.

It can be read here.

We've postponed the elections which were due this year for one year, until May 2021, but we cannot go on doing that indefinitely.

TSE asks if we may end up having to hold elections in which most campaigning and all voting is done electronically.

There is a precedent for this and I was personally involved.

Between 2002 and 2004 the then government carried out a number of trials with electronic and postal voting in local and European elections. (locals in the first two years and an all-postal in North West Region in the 2004 Euro-elections)

St Albans City and District Council, of whose cabinet I was at the time a member, was one of the councils who took part in the trial. We had an initial run with electronic voting in two wards in the May 2002 council elections and in the entire district in an all-out election in 2003.

It did work, though the systems only just coped and there were some very anxious moments indeed about whether we could deliver a robust and clearly secure and accurate outcome.

The original idea was to have remote voting only but there was a rebellion against that and we ended up with a trial in which every possible method of voting - internet, telephone (voters being sent a secure PIN which could be put into an online application or an automated system over the phone to validate identity and their vote), conventional postal vote, touch screen in the polling station and conventional ballot paper in the polling station - was available.

With all of those options and a huge publicity campaign there was a very slight increase in the turnout. Given the cost and trouble the then government decided not to pursue the idea at the time.

My main take from what I remember of the whole exercise is that electronic voting certainly can be used but it took an enormous of effort over two years to make it work.

If this is likely to be needed - and I have a horrible suspicion that TSE may be right and it could well be - planning to implement this should it be needed in 2021 needs to start NOW beginning with digging up the results of the 2002 and 2003 trials in St Albans and elsewhere.

Now, I wonder whether I kept the cabinet papers with the report on that trial which I would have received nearly seventeen years ago ...

Lockdown diary, day 33

Another beautiful day in West Cumbria

Another Sunday when we could not go to church, but did pray together at home.

There are signs from around the world that countries are passing the first peak of the disease but face difficult decisions on when and how fast to ease restrictions. Here is a graph from The Economist showing the seven day average of daily cases of COVID-19 per million inhabitants in sixteen countries around the world.

Note that the vertical axis scales are different on each of the four rows - a line the same height on the top row would indicate twice as many people infected per million people in the population as on the second row and almost an order of magnitude higher than on the bottom row.

I am posting this graph to show global trends, not because I think it has anything useful to say about how well or badly any country is doing: the demographic age structure, population density, methods of collecting, recording and publishing statistics, and probably other key variables which we don't yet even know are significant differ so greatly that comparisons are not reliable. What these graphs do show is in every one of these countries except France the seven-day rolling average cases per million has either started to drop or at the very least the growth rate showing signs of levelling off.

We are a very long way from being through even the first wave. But at least it has been shown that this virus is not invincible.

Keep well

Sta home; protect the NHS; save lives.

Of scientists, doctors, economists and politicians

Four years ago it was quite clear which part of the UK political spectrum was advocating listening to "experts" and which was prone to denigrating them.

When quoted in full the infamous comment by Brexiteer Michael Gove about the country having had enough of experts is rather more nuanced and less extreme than it appears in the version more often repeated. But if there had been any doubt of it, his comment comparing a group of Nobel Prize-winning economists, including one of my own teachers, to Nazi collaborators left everyone quite clear on what he thought at the time of economists who don't share his views. (He did apologise for and retract that remark but the damage was done.)

At the start of the Coronavirus crisis, concern was expressed by many of those who were not fans of Boris Johnson, especially those on the left and those who had been on the Remain side of the argument, that he and members of his government who had not paid as much attention as they thought he should to the views of Economists would similarly fail to pay attention to the views of doctors and of scientists such as epidemiologists.

Not only is this not how it has worked out, some of the very people who previously accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of not paying enough attention to economic experts are now accusing them of paying too much attention to medical and epidemiological ones.

I linked in another post today to Dan Hodges' article

"The inconvenient truth for Boris’s critics is that he did follow the science – and it’s working."

But Dan is far from being the only person to note this.

As "The Economist" magazine has pointed out,

"Ministers repeatedly emphasised that they were following scientific advice. Minutes from the government’s advisory committee support this:"

The magazine then itself demonstrated how positions have shifted on whether to listen to "experts" by continuing:

"Experts were not considering a complete lockdown, which was thought infeasible in a country like Britain, and worried about the impact of self-isolation. The concern is that scientists were trying to act like politicians (in judging what would be acceptable to a prime minister suspicious of government intrusion) and the politicians were trying to act like scientists (by doing exactly as the scientists instructed)."

In yesterday's Times arch Remain supporter Matthew Parris made a similar set of comments, pointing out with some justification that one should not refer to "The" science when science covers a multiplicity of disciplines and when on current issues like Coronavirus and how to deal with it there are scientists with a variety of views.

He went on to appear to infer that the government was paying too much attention to doctors and epidemiologists and not enough to business people and economists.

As write this the government have just been quoted on the BBC as saying that we must move "very carefully" and I think that has to be right.

We can't keep the lockdown in place forever but we have to take extreme care as we relax it. You can bet your life that some of the same people who are now calling for an "exit strategy" or for an end to lockdown will be quick to blame the government for every death after they do relax it should infections and deaths spike up again.

Trade offs and Coronavirus

My quote of the day this morning, one of my favourite sayings from American economist Thomas Sowell, was chosen for a reason.

He once said that "There are no solutions, there are only trade-offs."

Much of economics is about how you use finite and often scarce resources, so it is not surprising that an economist should say it or another would like it.

COVID-19 has presented some of the cruellest trade-offs of all.

Ban all entrance from those who do not work or live their into care homes and you stop family visits, which will be a very cruel thing to do to both residents and their families, especially where the former do not have long to live, and will damage their mental health and wellbeing, But every person through the doors of a care home increases the chance that they will bring COVID-19 with them with dire consequences.

The social distancing measures necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus have had dire consequences for the economy. So would the even greater death toll which would have happened if those measures had not been introduced.

There was a very difficult balancing act on when and how severely to introduce those measures. There was a case for moving more quickly. But here again there are trade-offs.

For one thing, if this had been done before the measures were in place which have now been taken to protect  business, such as the scheme to pay 80% of the wages of furloughed workers, the economic consequences would have been even more dire.

More importantly, there was always going to be a limit to how long the lockdown could be enforced. That's why it was important to time the introduction to make sure it was most effective when most needed . To quote an article by Dan Hodges today,

"As a No10 adviser said: 'You can see lockdown is starting to sag at the edges a little. Imagine if that had happened two weeks ago just as we were approaching the peak. Imagine the lives that would have been lost.'

You can read the Dan Hodges article in full here.

The next set of trade-offs will be around how we can loosen the lockdown as the death rates fall in a way which maximises the ability of the economy to get going again and the ability of people to get away from the frustrations of lockdown while minimising the risk of letting infections, and deaths a few weeks later, take off again.

I hope and believe that the government will be working on an "exit strategy" which addresses this and it will not be too long before they can publish and implement it.

But this will involve the judgement of Solomon on how we balance the needs of the economy with the requirements to save lives.

Virtually every pandemic in history has had more than one wave. Three is more normal.

It is almost certainly overoptimistic to suggest that we have any chance of avoiding a second wave entirely.

The key thing is to do what we can to let the economy get going again while minimising the lives lost to COVID-19 and the size of the second wave.

Difficult trade-offs will be with us for a long time yet.

Sunday music spot "The dream of flight" by Christopher Tin

Another version of "Sogno di Volare" (The Dream of Flight) by Christopher Tin, with 50+ singers from the Oregon State Chamber Choir.

The version of this piece which I posted on Monday was goodm but this one is so magnificent I thought it was worth coming back and posting this one too.

My wife said that when she watched and listened to this it was as if the singers represented the world coming together to help one another against Coronavirus.

Quote of the day Sunday 26th April 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Lockdown diary, day 32

Had a conversation with a colleague today whom I met while shopping for basic supplies (carefully keeping two metres apart while we talked.)

Both of us would normally have occasion to drive round the county a lot, the region a fair amount, and visit London occasionally. He thought he would have normally driven three thousand miles in the last month, but all the meetings he has been to would have been cancelled.

I'm in a similar situation. Between work, council meetings and activities, Conservative party functions, church and my social life I would normally have attended more than twenty events over the six weeks since the last meeting I actually did attend - St Bees Parish Council on 16th March. However, most have been cancelled and the rest replaced by Skype meetings. The number of miles I'd have driven would probably also have been in four figures, although the first digit would likely have been one rather than three. As it is I filled the car a week or two into the lockdown and the fuel indicator is still showing full. 

Talking of Skype meetings those are starting to get off the ground now on Cumbria County Council but we are not using them nearly as much as we should. Hopefully that will come. And I hope it will still be used where appropriate after the Coronavirus situation.

Ironically on the way back home from the shopping when I met my colleague I did call in at the Morrison's petrol kiosk, not because there was any space in the car's petrol tank but because it was a convenient place to buy a few food items.

One of the ladies in the queue asked in surprise "Has the price of petrol really gone down?"

I explained that because people are driving so much less the world the demand for oil has crashed and at times the oil companies have literally been paying people to take oil away when they've run out of storage capacity,.

It's a strange world - bet none of us thought we would ever live to see economic conditions in which the price of oil can occasionally literally go negative. But it has - I wasn't joking.

Then back home after my bit of essential shopping, where I stayed for the rest of the day.

Keep well.

Stay home: support the NHS; save lives.

The end of the Brexit debate

I'd love to be able to guarantee that this will be my last post ever about the merits of the Brexit vote.

Given that the trade deal to replace the present transitional arrangements which runs out of the end of the year has yet to be agreed, and the present COVID-19 pandemic may or may not make an extension necessary, such a promise would be a hostage to fortune.

The Brexit argument, and the tribes into which it divided people, continues to cast a long shadow over UK politics including the discussion of Coronavirus issues. It is obvious, for example that for some of the more hard-line people on both sides of the former Brexit argument, the first test they apply when assessing what someone says or writes about COVID-19 is whether they were on the "right" side of the Brexit debate and some of them don't even try to hide it.

But for me, and I strongly suspect for the great majority of the electorate, certainly those who were not fierce partisans of either side, the debate about whether Britain should have left the EU is as dead, irrelevant, impossible to resolve and a matter of ancient history as the debate between Pharaoh Akhenaten and the Priests of Ra some 3,500 years ago.

Among other reasons, that is because COVID-19 has given both sides a perfect alibi. 

Although both economists who thought the impact of Brexit on the UK economy would be far more severe, and a small minority who thought it would actually make Britain better off, did exist, the overwhelming consensus among economists was that after fifteen years Britain would be worse off by a modest amount than we would have been had we not left, but better off than we were in 2016. 

One economic study suggested, for instance that Britain's economy might grow by 30% inside the EU or 24% out of it over the next decade and a half.  The Treasury analysis was something similar.

It should not be a controversial statement the majority of economists both at the time of Brexit and up to the beginning of this year thought that the UK economy would grow over the next fifteen years whether we were inside or outside the EU, but that it would have grown a little faster had we remained members. 

Unfortunately because of the catastrophist language thrown around by both sides and the inability of some people to understand the distinction between saying that something will make us "worse off" in the sense that the UK will be less rich than we would have been, and "worse off" than we are now, there may be people reading this who have trouble with it.

However, being economists rather than epidemiologists, none of us knew that there was going to be a pandemic this year.

Coronavirus will make Britain and the rest of the world significantly worse off in absolute terms in the short and medium term.

I hope nobody will disagree with me that the most optimistic (e.g. least bad)  estimates of what COVID-19 is doing and will do to the UK economy are far worse than what any reputable economist thought Brexit would do to the UK economy.

Given that this catastrophe, in economic terms as well as the cost in premature deaths which has rightly been the main concern, hit less than three months after Britain finally left the EU and while we were still in the one year transition phase, COVID-19 has guaranteed that we will never be able to answer the question of whether and how much Brexit made the UK better or worse off.

It has made any attempt to answer the question by looking at the economic outcome almost as  pointless and irrelevant as carrying on with an argument about whether it had been a good idea to have a car repainted after the car has been hit by a drunk-driver and written off.

Brexit is last year's argument. It's over.

It's time to move on, deal with COVID-19, and build a new society which can cope better with the next pandemic, including a new relationship with the EU 27 countries as neighbours and friends.

Saturday music spot: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, 1st movement

At the time Beethoven wrote the Fifth symphony he was not well off.

There is a story that his cleaning lady gave notice because she had not been paid regularly.

"But you cannot leave me," the maestro is supposed to have said. "You are my inspiration!"

"I am YOUR inspiraction?" she replied, and began to laugh.

" Ha ha ha, HA! Ha ha ha, HA!"

Okay, the symphony is better than the joke ...

Quote of the day 25th April 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020

Lockdown diary, day 32

A beautiful sunny day here in Whitehaven. Went out for some essential shopping and the streets were almost deserted.

Which actually shows that people are doing the right thing but felt very odd.

Made sure I had cash when visiting one shop establishment which if memory serves did not take cards not all that long ago. Made sure I had cash with me. If I had been asked to pay cash it would have been the first time I bought anything with notes and coin for 32 days.

That was a somewhat stunning thought. Although I use my credit or debit card for the majority of purchases now, and other members of my family are used to using their phones to pay for things (and do so rather more now than in the pre-COVID-19 world) this will almost certainly have been the first time I have never paid for a single thing with notes and coin over a period of a full month since I was about eleven years old.

I have always thought it likely that I would live to see a cashless society, but I did not expect it to
happen in the way that it has.

Nevertheless  most people prefer to pay and be paid using contactless means at the moment - and who can blame them? And sure enough I paid today with my contactless credit card.

The lady members of my family were concerned this evening that a missing rabbit had failed to return to the hutch at bed-time.  I found the bad bunny safe and well and sheltering under a hydrangea bush.

Keep Well.

Stay home: protect the NHS; save lives.

Helping businesses keep going: Business rate relief

The government has announced that businesses will receive almost £10 billion in business rates relief this year, giving them a financial boost and the resources they need to weather this national emergency.
  • The government recognises all the economic impact the current lockdown measures are having, which is why theye have put in place an unprecedented package of support for businesses.
  • Businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors play a vital role in our communities, and we stand right behind them. In addition to the £6 billion in business grants already awarded, companies will benefit from almost £10 billion in rates relief this year – helping them with their cashflow during this difficult period.
  • The government has made clear that it would do whatever it took to support local business and protect jobs and that is exactly what this assistance will do. The governmetn stands behind bujsiness as we all work to protect the NHS and save lives.

Quote of the day 24th April 2020

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Lockdown diary: day 31

Another huge expression of support at 8pm as people came to their front doors while those who were doing urgent shopping paused for a moment in supermarkets to applaud NHS and other workers who are on the front line, caring for us all.

St George's day when we celebrate the patron saint of England. Must admit I had some sympathy for the idea put forward a few years ago that Saint Alban, the first known Christian martyr in Britain, might have been a more appropriate patron saint for this country than someone who never came within a thousand miles of it, but the tradition is too strong and is obviously not going to change. A very Happy St George's day to everyone reading this.

A fun time choosing a music slot for today - as most of the patriotic songs which might otherwise have been appropriate are Britain rather than English. As someone who self-identifies as Britain I am painfully aware that the only thing which upsets Scots, Welsh and Irish people nearly as much as being called English is when the English appropriate Britain national symbols in an English context.

I did briefly consider posting Flanders and Swann's "A song of patriotic prejudice" but as the late Michael Flanders correctly described this as a song designed to offend practically everyone (except those with a sense of humour)  that was probably too great a risk.

So I ended up posting Parry's setting to music of Blake's poem "Jerusalem" which is probably the nearest thing England has to a national song. Like more than  a little of what Blake wrote, "Jerusalem" is inspirational nonsense but great fun.

Keep mwell

Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

Expanding our national Coronavirus testing capacity

A new network of diagnostic laboratories – the biggest in Britain – has been completed in five weeks, enhancing the UK's national testing capability which will be so vital in our battle against coronavirus. 
  • Every day across the country we are increasing our coronavirus testing capacity as we strive to meet our ambition of achieving 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.
  • Three new mega-labs in Glasgow, Milton Keynes and Cheshire - which can be scaled up to test tens of thousands of samples - have now been added to that effort, having been announced just five weeks ago. This has been an extraordinary national effort, and we pay tribute to the expert staff and volunteers who have brought about this historic achievement. 
  • Working closely with industry partners and our world leading universities, we can meet our testing ambition together, meaning we can test more key frontline workers and ensure those that test negative for the virus can return safely to work

Music spot for St George's day: Jerusalem

Happy St George's Day

Quote of the day 23rd April 2020

“This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear. 

“We have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally for the foreseeable future.” 

“If people are hoping it’s going to suddenly move from where we are now in lockdown suddenly into everything’s gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation. 

“We are going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time, the question is what is the best package.”

(UK Government chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, 22nd April 2020)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Lockdown diary day 30

Another busy day at home.

Pleased to see that parliament managed to hold Prime Ministers Questions largely remotely - this should facilitate the extension of electronic democracy which should enable us to make it easier to get people involved after the Coronavirus.

Captain Tom has now raised more than £28 million for NHS charities thanks to the generosity of more than 1.3 million supporters.

The UK's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty says it is "wholly unrealistic" to expect life to return to normal in 2020 since this would require a vaccine or effective treatment to be available and the chances of that happening in this calendar year are "incredibly small."

Meanwhile the Labour party's youth wing in London and former Lib/Dem leader Vince Cable made themselves look very silly by celebrating the anniversary of the birth of revolutionary, dictator and mass-murderer Lenin or finding positive things to say about him.

Parodying Vince Cable's own best line in the House of Commons, when he skewered the then then Prime Minister Gordon Brown by referring to his remarkable transformation "from Stalin to Mr Bean" one former political advisor called Tom Hamilton replied on twitter that today we saw

"Vince Cable’s remarkable transformation from Mr Bean to Stalin."

Keep well

Stay home; protect the NHS; save lives.

What is happening to death rates around the world

All international comparisons about death rates during this Coronavirus pandemic should be treated with caution, including the one I am about to refer to, and especially if someone appears to be trying to rush to a premature judgement that a government they never liked is performing really badly or one they like is doing well.

I do think this comparison which I have taken from a New York times article here says something we can learn from. A very similar calculation has been done by The Economist magazine.

In various different countries around the world, total death rates from all causes death rates roughly tracked the number of deaths you would normally expect in that country at that time of year for the first eight to ten weeks or so. Then in March the death rates in all these countries took a steep jump upward to well above the normal level of deaths. Here are the graphs for England and wales plus seven other parts of the world:

Many European countries have seen a rise in the daily number of people dying to twenty or thirty percent above normal numbers. It seems to be worst in large and densely populated global cities. For example, the death rate in Paris is about double normal levels and New York city has experienced almost four times the normal death rate.

In every case except Belgium and Sweden the amount by which the death rates exceeds normal levels is significantly higher than current official estimates of deaths from COVID-19. That is almost certainly partly because those figures are underestimates, but it may also indicate that the pandemic is indirectly increasing the number of deaths from causes other than COVID-19.  For example, people who have other conditions may be afraid to go into hospital for fear of catching COVID-19, and then dying avoidably from those other conditions because they were afraid to get medical help;.

Incidentally, if anyone reading this in the UK is worried about going to the hospital with a chest pain or other potentially dangerous condition, there are separate entrances for suspected Coronavirus patients and great efforts are being made to keep hospitals open and safe for anyone who really needs hospital treatment.

Here is a table of the numbers behind the graphs above plus two other parts of the world:

I'm not trying to make any point about whether the UK government of any of the other governments responsible for health in these areas have done well or badly. It's very likely that they have all done some things well and others less so. All these countries have social distancing measures of various kinds in place to try to control the disease and without them it is likely that the numbers of deaths would be even worse.

My purpose in sharing this is to debunk the idea, which some people still apparently believe, that COVID-19 isn't that much worse than normal flu and that most of the people it has killed would have died soon of something else anyway. These figures show that the number of people we are losing is far worse than that.

All the more reason why we need to be very careful about relaxing the measures without which the death rates would be even higher

Of vaccines and PPE

The Government has announced £45 million for two world-leading UK projects working to find a vaccine for coronavirus, reaffirming our commitment to do everything in our power to help the scientists working to defeat this virus.
  • UK scientists are working as fast as they can to find a vaccine, saving and protecting people’s lives – and we will do everything in our power to help them.
  • That is why we are backing our UK scientists with everything they need to find a vaccine, including £45 million for two projects at Oxford University and Imperial College, with the first human trials set to begin tomorrow. This is in addition to the £250 million we are putting into the international effort to find a vaccine – the largest international donation.
  • While this is a complex process which could take many months and has no guarantees, we are clear that we will back our scientists with what they need, to give us the best chance of finding a vaccine.
The Government is continuing to work around the clock to get frontline NHS and care workers the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and save lives.
  • Global supply chains of PPE are under pressure – this is an international challenge that many other countries are experiencing.
  • While there is huge demand for equipment at this time, the Government is buying millions more and working with British manufacturers and our international allies to secure months more of supplies – with a PPE shipment from Turkey successfully arriving this morning following engagement with the Turkish Government at the highest level. 
  • Since this pandemic began we have delivered over a billion items of protective equipment for frontline workers, and we will continue to pursue every possible domestic and international option for PPE procurement.

Quote of the day 22nd April 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lockdown diary: day 29

Great news that trials are to begin in Oxford into a potential coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, according to a statement today ealth Secretary Matt Hancock. ,

He said that the government will "throw everything" at efforts to stop the virus. 

"In normal times, reaching this stage would take years," Matt Hancock said, adding how he is "very proud" the University of Oxford was able to make such progress. He praised the “rapid progress” being made into vaccines by scientists at Oxford and Imperial College London. 

He added that the UK has "put more money than any other country into the global search for a vaccine" and that of all the efforts around the world, "two of the leading vaccine developments are taking place here at home at Oxford and Imperial". 

Mr Hancock says he has told scientists leading the search he would “back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need” in order to succeed.

I am sure we will all be hoping these efforts produce a safe an effective vaccine. But obviously, it's goint to take some time to establish whether it works and is safe, so I'm not breaking out the champagne just yet.

Keep well.

Stay home; protect the NHS; save lives.

Helping businesses to survive the Coronavirus crisis

Obviously the CIVD-19 pandemic has to be treated first as a serious threat to many human lives, but it is also a potentially catastrophic threat to many people's jobs and livelihoods.

That's why the government has taken action to help businesses survive and make sure people still have a job to go back to after the lockdown.

The Government has distributed more than £12 billion to local authorities in England, for the small business grants scheme, helping businesses to weather the coronavirus outbreak.
  • This is a hugely challenging time for businesses, especially for the smaller firms that are at the heart of local communities across the country.
  • As part of the Government’s coronavirus business support package, £12.3 billion has been provided to local authorities in England. Thanks to this support, more than £6 billion has already been paid out to almost half a million business properties, providing vital grants to small businesses.
  • We are determined to do everything we can to help businesses, and the people who rely on them, to get through this crisis.

Yesterday the Chancellor announced that more than 140,000 firms applied for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in the first day of it being available, helping pay the wages of more than a million people who would otherwise have been at risk of losing their jobs.
  • the government recognises the extreme disruption that the Coronavirus is having on people’s lives, which is why we have set out an unprecedented programme of support both for workers and for businesses.
  • Yesterday, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme opened for applications, with more than 140,000 firms applying by 4pm. Under the scheme, employers can claim a cash grant of up to 80 per cent of a furloughed employees’ wages, capped at £2,5000 a month.
  • The government aims to ensure that people get the support they need to do the right thing – to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives – without worrying about losing their jobs and not being able to pay their bills.

Tuesday music spot: Christopher Tin, "The Dream of Flight" (Civ VI theme)

Quote for the day Tuesday 21st April 2020

Monday, April 20, 2020

Lockdown diary: day 28

Four weeks into the lockdown

Public patience and co-operation holding up remarkably well.

140,000 UK companies applied for the Coronavirus job protection scheme on the first day, applications which will protect eh jobs of over a million workers.

Not a good day for me: I've had a nasty cold (though it's definitely not COVID-19, the symptoms are completely wrong) and have been struggling to cope with the effects on my computer of trying to open a very large file when I already had another one open. Had to reboot it half a dozen times. Then an intermittent fault in my connection reappeared.

In the great scheme of things many people have much worse problems at the moment.

Keep well

Stay home; protect the NHS; save lives.

Latest news on Coronavirus action

Latest actions taken by the UK government to deal with COVID-19 include:

  • Today, the unprecedented Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has opened for applications – one of the most generous schemes in the world which will help to protect millions of jobs across the country. The scheme is now up and running and is expected to benefit millions of people across the country. Firms who apply will receive funds within six days. HMRC’s easy-to-use portal has a step by step application process, and up to 5,000 staff will be manning phone lines and webchat services to ensure any questions can be answered.
  • Announcing a £1.25 billion package of support for innovative firms impacted by coronavirus, delivering important help that will protect some of the most dynamic sectors of our economy. The £1.25 billion support package will ensure businesses in some of the most dynamic sectors are protected. This includes a £500 million loan scheme for high-growth firms, called the Future Fund, and £750 million of targeted support for small and medium sized businesses focusing on research and development.
  • Appointing the Chief Executive of the 2012 London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Lord Deighton, to lead the national effort to get more PPE to NHS and social care staff who are fighting this virus on the front line. Lord Deighton led the delivery of the 2012 London Olympics. He will now coordinate the Government’s focus on increasing the supply of PPE, leading the ‘make’ programme to unleash the potential of UK industry to scale up domestic PPE manufacturing, ensuring we can produce more of the equipment we need here in the UK. We are working around the clock to deliver more, and by working closely with UK industry, we will rise to this challenge together.
  • Unloading a shipment of 140,000 gowns from Myanmar today. And we are continuing to pursue every possible option for PPE procurement.
  • Unveiling new measures to ensure vulnerable and disadvantaged young people can continue to access vital education resources from their homes. The Government will provide laptops and tablets to children with a social worker and disadvantaged young people who are taking exams next year, so they can continue to access essential services and resources. 4G routers will also be provided to disadvantaged secondary school pupils and care leavers, so that they can get online and continue their studies. In addition, the Oak National Academy has launched to provide 180 video lessons each week, across a broad range of subjects from maths to art to languages, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.
  • Pledging an extra £1.6 billion in funding for councils so they can continue to support their communities and deliver vital services through this challenging time. This extra £1.6 billion takes the total given to councils to help their communities through this crisis to over £3.2 billion, an unprecedented level of additional financial support in recent times.