Monday, August 31, 2020

Bank holiday music spot: Jeremiah Clark's Trumpet Voluntary (Prince of Denmark's March)

Getting children back to school

The Education Secretary has written an open letter to parents, reiterating that it is a national priority to get children back to school, and setting out the measures we have taken to ensure classrooms are safe for both pupils and teachers.

  • Teachers and other school staff have spent the summer months working tirelessly to make classrooms safe for a full return of pupils.
  • In his letter to parents, the Education Secretary highlighted the advice from all four of the UK’s chief medical officers, who said that as the risk of contracting coronavirus in school is very small, it is far more damaging for a children’s development, health and wellbeing to be away from school for any longer.
  • Schools have put safeguards in place to ensure both students and staff are kept as safe as possible, including:
    • Primary children will stay in groups to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
    • In areas of local restrictions, older children and staff will wear face coverings in communal areas where they can’t easily socially distance.
    • Strict hygiene and cleaning protocols are in place and PPE is being distributed to every school, along with a small number of home testing kits for anyone who develops symptoms and is not able to easily get tested.
    • Local authorities have been given an extra £40 million to increase school transport to reduce pressure on public transport, and pupils who can are being encouraged to walk or cycle to school.
  • It is a national priority to get children back to school. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chance of our children than getting back to leaning, back to playing and back to being kids again.

Quote of the day 31st August 2020

 “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” 

(Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor,

This is such a suspiciously good quote that I thought I'd better check it's provenance. I did find at the end of book 11 of Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations" a form of words, much less memorable in the George Long translation I was reading than the words, above but which might possibly be one translation of a passage in latin which could also be translated as above. 

The emperor appears to be reporting the opinions of the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus and considering them alongside those of Socrates.)

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Making Sport happen safely

 Writing in the Sun on Sunday, the Culture Secretary has announced the creation of a new team of health, sport and tech experts to explore ways of getting sports fans safely back in stadiums where they belong.

  • The government wants fans back in the stands, following their teams and enjoying the sports they love, and sport’s economic health depends on their return to stadiums too.
  • As part of the roadmap to cautiously reopen more of society, we want fans back at sport fixtures from October, if the science allows. To help achieve this, the government will bring together sport, health and tech experts to work with sports bodies to explore high-tech solutions that can get fans back into venues in greater numbers. 
  • The whistle has been blown on fans returns safely through pilots and small trials, but the work will not be done until every fan is back where they belong.

Sunday music spot: Handel's 'The Trumpet Shall Sound' from the Messiah

Quote of the day 30th August 2020


(Nick Timothy, former joint chief of staff to Theresa May) 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Outgoing DG says BBC needs more diversity of opinion

Lord Tony Hall, outgoing director of the BBC, has said in an interview that the BBC needs more diversity of opinion.

He said: 

“You don’t want people who all think alike" 

and added, 

“Our job is not to take sides. We should not pander to any particular group; we should be giving everybody, whoever they are, something. We should try to be the calm centre in what is a very stormy situation that we find ourselves in.”

One is tempted to make a reference to more joy in heaven ...

What future for the Lib/Dems? Part Two

My colleagues have been having a bit of fun at the Lib/Dems expense, parodying one of the infamous "Lib/Dem Bar charts" which use all the tricks from "How to lie with statistics" to make their chances look better so as to show Layla Moran (who actually lost by nearly two to one" as if she was close behind Sir Ed Davey.

By the way, can anyone remember how long it is, if it has ever happened before, since two of the three main UK party leaders (Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey) had knighthoods? Back in the middle ages the very first parliaments literally elected two knights from each shire, so it's possible that it happened back then, but I am fairly certain that it is hundreds of years since we last had such a position.

My problem with Ed Davey, who I thought was an effective minister in the coalition government, is that he has spent the last few months disavowing achievements I respected him for and I don't know how anyone can now be clear about what he really thinks. 

He has become a serial flip-flopper. 

He voted to increase tuition fees – even though he had signed a pledge to scrap them. He attacked the expansion of nuclear power, and later signed off on the first nuclear power project in a generation. He promised to ‘put politics aside’ to support the national effort against coronavirus, but was back to making partisan attacks of ‘betrayal’ within weeks. 

(Sources: Guido Fawkes, 22 October 2013, linkUnearthed, 15 December 2017, linkHansard, 11 May 2020, linkBusiness Insider, 11 July 2020, link).

Long awaited traffic calming installed in Moor Row

Traffic calming measures - a number of "speed thumps" - have finally been installed over the last few days in Scalegill Road, Moor Row within my division.

It was agreed some time ago that Section 106 money obtained from a developer for a contribution to pay for traffic measures as a condition for planning permission should be used in this way.

It was also agreed that the "speed thumps" would initially be installed at minimum thickness, and left at that thickness if if did the job, but made thicker if that was necessary to slow the traffic down more.

I went down this morning to see what effect the measures were having and they did seems to be making drivers curb their speed slightly.

I would be interested in feedback, particularly from residents of Moor Row, on how the measures are working.   

Quote of the day 29th August

 “A second wave is clearly visible in other parts of the world,”

“It is a very serious threat.

 “This is the reasonable worst-case scenario, that we have a bad flu and a growth in coronavirus as people spend more time indoors.

“Cases go up again, and we have to use very extensive local lockdowns or take further national action. We don’t rule that out but we don’t want to see it.”

(Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, extracts from an interview in The Times)

Friday, August 28, 2020

What future for the Lib/Dems? Part one.

You may not have noticed, but the Lib/Dems have been having a leadership election. 

Yesterday, Sir Ed Davey was declared the winner, defeating Layla Moran by winning 65 per cent of the vote. He now has a chance to rejuvenate the battered party’s fortunes. 

As Patrick Maxwell, who is a former member of that party, put it here with very British understatement, 

"Davey has a job on his hands.

A party which was in government for the first half of the decade which has just ended lost their previous leader when she was defeated in her East Dunbartonshire seat in December, and the Lib Dems slumped to eleven seats in the Commons. Their poll ratings have declined into the lower single figures.

The Lib/Dems have now suffered electoral disasters at three consecutive general elections: the first in 2015 was neither surprising nor entirely to their discredit, as the had been party to some very brave decisions in the national interest which were not at all comfortable for their electoral base. 

Their second and third general election disappointments for the Lib/Dems, in 2017 and particularly in 2019, however, were both surprising and should almost certainly have been avoidable.

On the face of it, with the Conservatives natural coalition of support under huge strain because of tensions between the interests of the pro-business and patriotic wings of the party as a result of Brexit, and Labour both facing equivalent fractures and led by a far-left faction under Jeremy Corbyn which was massively repellent to large parts of their traditional voter base, there should have been a golden opportunity for a party of the moderate centre. 

Such a party should have been able to scoop up electors who had shown in the May 2019 elections that they were willing to consider, if not actively looking for, alternatives to the two main parties. The Lib/Dems had performed particularly very well in the final European election, although perhaps one of the lessons of the gulf between their performance in May and December 2019 is that the same platform which is brilliantly tailored to a PR single-issue election with a turnout of less than 40% can be a recipe for disaster in a FPTP general election with a turnout  thirty percentage points higher.

The problem for the Lib/Dems was precisely they were not seen as a party of the moderate centre by a majority of the electorate. On the issue which they made the centre of their election campaign, the revocation of Brexit, they were at one polar extreme of the spectrum with the Brexit party on the other end. Worse, they did not even appear to realise this.

I very rarely agree with Green MP Caroline Lucas on anything at all, but she perfectly summarised why even many Remain voters found the Lib/Dem "Revoke" line on Brexit far too extreme in the first twenty seconds of this clip:  

To quote again from Patrick Maxwell, 

"When I was a member, I warned whoever would listen that a push for extreme Remainerism would only derail the party’s plans to win more seats outside the prosperous south-east. The party ploughed on, and saw the consequences of a toxic mix of electoral arrogance, patronising pledges, and one issue obsession."

He adds of the 2020 leadership campaign that 

"what was missing from both candidates’ offer was a coherent plan to confront the party’s dismal position."

All parties need to adapt or die, and in the face of Coronavirus the need to adapt is stronger than ever - a challenge which not just the Lib/Dems but other parties would be wise to be aware of.

When the next election comes around in 2024, a campaign platform based on Brexit, for any candidate be they on the left or right, pro or anti, will look about as relevant to the current concern of voters as the hundred years war.

If the Lib/Dems want a future, they need to move forward. And so does everyone else.

This is the first part of a two-part post, concludes tomorrow.

Quote of the day 28th August 2020

 What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? - Vincent Van Gogh

Dealing with potholes

 Today, the Transport Secretary has launched a major crackdown on potholes in England, so they can be fixed quickly, allowing people to get on while keeping motorists and cyclists safer on our roads.

  • Everyone want roads to be as safe as possible for those who rely on them, and for too long potholes have been a scourge for both motorists and cyclists.
  • That’s why the government will work with technology companies to undertake a first-of-its-kind audit of England’s roads, identifying where the potholes are and taking the necessary action to fix them – backed with our £2.5 billion funding for pothole repairs.
  • Better road surfaces benefit motorists and cyclists alike ensuring, as more people get back to school and work, they can do so safely and smoothly.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Improving broadband and mobile connectivity

The government is calling on local councils to help ensure people can access better broadband and mobile connectivity, helping to level up every area of our country with improved digital infrastructure as we recover from coronavirus.

  • Councils play a critical role in delivering high-speed broadband, and ensuring people get access to fast and reliable connections remains one of our top priorities.
  • The Digital and Local Government Ministers have today written to councils with new guidance on how they can make it easier for telecoms companies to access public land for new infrastructure such as 5G masts and full fibre broadband. The government has also provided a new guide for councils to tackle harmful disinformation about 5G, which has been incorrectly linked to coronavirus.
  • Recent months have shown the importance of everyone having good broadband and mobile coverage, and today’s guidance will help to drive growth locally as we build back better after the coronavirus pandemic.
In the interests of transparency, let me make clear that I work for Openreach, a company which is 100% owned by BT 

Helping people to make ends meet while self-isolating

The Health Secretary has announced that people on low incomes in the highest risk areas who need to self-isolate and are unable to work will benefit from a new payment scheme, ensuring people can make ends meet while helping to control the spread of coronavirus.

  • Self-isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, or after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive, remains vital to keeping on top of local outbreaks.
  • The government will trial a new payment scheme in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham in which people on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit and who test positive will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation, while other members of their household and people they have come into contact with, who have to isolate for 14 days, will receive £182. If the trial is successful, the scheme will be quickly applied in other areas of high coronavirus incidence.
  • Everyone has a part to play in helping to control the virus – and the government will make it as convenient as possible for people to do so.

Quote of the day 27th August 2020

 "Britons never, never, never shall be free of the culture wars"

Title of an article in this week's Economist about the row which has erupted over the decision to drop "Rule Britannia" and "Land of hope and glory" from the last night of the proms.

I note from the article that a YouGov opinion polls suggested that only 8% of people think the songs in question should be dropped, and 9% that they should be performed without lyrics. As the magazine notes, those people were probably never going to tune in anyway.

The whole thing seems to me like cultural vandalism and the woke killjoys responsible should never have been allowed anywhere near a position which entrusted them with anything to do with the management of the proms.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Midweek music spot: "The Wedge" (Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E Minor)

Eat out to help out

New figures have shown that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has now been used over 64 million times, delivering a vital boost for Britain's hospitality sector which has been hit hard by coronavirus. 

  • The lockdown measures introduced in March were vital in saving lives and stopping the spread of coronavirus, but we must recognise the enormous impact this has had on our economy, and especially on the hospitality sector.
  • That is why at the start of August chancellor RIshi Sunak launched the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which is now in its fourth week and has been used over 64 million times to give people discounted meals, helping to get customers back into local businesses and protecting the jobs of the nearly 2 million people who work in hospitality.
  • This scheme has kept more money in hardworking families’ pockets whilst giving the UK’s hospitality sector the vital boost it needs.

New free schools

 Today the government announced that over 50 new free schools will open at the start of the new school term, giving parents and pupils a greater choice of good schools so we can level up opportunity across the country.

  • Every child should have access to a good education so they can reach their full potential, regardless of their background or where they live.
  • That is why, through the successful free schools programme, more than 50 new free schools will be able to open their gates to pupils this year, creating over 24,000 new, high-quality school places across the country and delivering greater choice and higher standards by bringing more diversity to the school system. 
  • Britain has already made significant advances in educational attainment after turning the ship around from the mess which the Conservative-led coalition inherited from  Labour - but there is still more to do. These new schools will contribute to raising standards across the country, giving students the world-class education they deserve as we build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

Face coverings in schools

 Following new advice from the World Health Organisation, the government has updated guidance on using face coverings in schools so that parents, pupils and teachers have the confidence they need to get back into the classroom.

  • Our priority must be to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest and the best medical and scientific advice available to us. 
  • That is why following new guidance from the World Health Organisation, the government is advising that in local lockdown areas children in year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal spaces like  corridors, and outside of local lockdown areas, schools will have the power to decide whether to introduce these measures if they believe it is right in their specific circumstances. These measures will come into effect on 1 September.
  • Pupils will not be required to wear face coverings in the classroom - as protective measures already mean the risk is lower - and it is important the children are able to communicate effectively with their teachers, so their education is not hindered.
  • These measures will ensure that we can safely get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.
I welcome the fact that the government has given head teachers discretion to decide whether to adopt this rule outside lockdown areas - they know better than anyone what will best protect their pupils and staff.

Quote of the day 26th August

 The white marble statue of Honest Abe in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Start up loans

The government's Start Up Loan Scheme has today passed a milestone helping 75,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up, create jobs and boost the economy since its introduction in 2012.

  • Through the time of the Start Up Loan Scheme, government has provided more than £623 million of investment and support to tens of thousands of small businesses who might otherwise have struggled to access it, making a real difference to aspiring business owners and driving investment into the regions. 
  • Since it was established in 2012, the scheme has helped thousands of people; with one in five loan recipients coming from BAME backgrounds, two in five loan recipients are women while one in three were unemployed when they applied for the loan, reflecting the diversity of Britain’s start up community. 
  • Small businesses up and down the country are the backbone of our economy, and as we rebuild Britain in the months ahead, we will continue to support our entrepreneurs, innovators and doers in every region and sector of the UK.

Getting children back to school

I make no apology for repeating the very important point that the Prime Minister made yesterday in his direct appeal to parents about the importance of getting their children back into the classroom when schools reopen next week.

  • Having previously spoken of our moral duty to reopen schools to all pupils safely, the Prime Minister thanked school staff across the country who have spent their summer months making classrooms Covid-secure in preparation for a full return in September. 
  • As the Chief Medical Officer has said, while the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small, it is far more damaging for a child’s development, their health and wellbeing to be away from school much longer. 
  • The Prime Minister’s appeal followed a Public Health England study, published over the weekend, which shows that just 0.01 per cent of pre-schools and primary schools had an outbreak in June – all of which were successfully contained and just 70 children were affected. 
  • This is why it’s vitally important that we get out children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school. 


Quote of the day 25th August

“Of course, to be a mother and a housewife is a vocation of a very high kind. But I simply felt that it was not the whole of my vocation. I knew that I also wanted a career. A phrase that Irene Ward, MP for Tynemouth, and I often used was that ‘while the home must always be the centre of one’s life, it should not be the boundary of one’s ambitions’.” 

(Margaret Thatcher)