Showing posts from September, 2020


Yesterday Britain  imposed landmark sanctions  on Alexander Lukashenko, his son and senior figures in the Belarusian government, taking decisive action to stand up for our values of democracy and human rights. Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is responsible for a string of human rights violations against the people of Belarus and the rigging of their election. Despite numerous calls from the international community, he has refused to engage in dialogue.   Through our Global Human Rights sanctions regime, the UK has the power to stop those individuals from the Belarusian regime, including Alexander Lukashenko, from entering this country, using UK banks, or profiting from our economy. These coordinated international sanctions, taken by the UK and Canada, will send a clear message.      It is important that the international community makes an effort to hold those responsible for the kind of thuggery deployed by the regime in Belarus against their own people to account and Britain will take

Action for better housing

Today the government launched the  biggest upgrade of nation’s buildings  in a generation – a £3 billion plan to deliver jobs, greener homes and cheaper bills. The Conservatives promised that throughout our economic recovery we would continue to support jobs while protecting our environment. As we build back greener, we want to improve people’s standard of living and reduce their energy bills.    Starting today, the Green Homes Grant scheme, will see two-thirds of the cost of home improvements up to £5,000, funded by the government. These improvements will help reduce people’s energy bills, cut our carbon emissions and support over 100,000 jobs.    As we build back better it is essential that we build back greener - while supporting the thousands of jobs in construction for local plumbers, builders and tradespeople across the UK.

Midweek music spot: Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto in D Major Op. 6 No. 4


Quote of the day 30th September 2020


Tuesday music spot: J.S. Bach - Cantata BWV 140 "Wake O wake."


Long live the contrarians

It's my proud boast that although I have deleted posts from this blog and my Facebook page which I thought were libellous, offensive or childish insults, I do not remove from debating spaces under my control the comments of those who are making a reasonably polite and constructive attempt to express views I merely happen to very strongly disagree with. Or even things I know to be wrong if, as is nearly always the case, a polite and constructive correction is far more appropriate than pretending that his or her views do not exist. Someone who had made what I consider, and had written, were some completely wrong statements on Facebook asked this week why I didn't just unfriend and block her. The answer is that nobody has a monopoly of wisdom and I am determined to avoid the social media trap of constructing an artificial bubble around myself in which I engage only with people who completely agree with me or are at least in a comfort zone of carefully limited disagreement. Sooner

The latest round of Brexit negotiations begin ...

The latest round of Brexit negotiations with the EU began today. The latest briefing from HQ reads as follows: "We continue to work hard to bridge the gaps that remain without compromising on our fundamental position of being an independent country.  Following informal discussions last week, the ninth round of formal negotiations with the EU will start today as we work towards reaching an agreement ahead of the EU Council on 15 October, which the Prime Minister set as a deadline for securing a deal.     Since we left on 31 January, we have been seeking a new relationship with the EU based on the kind of agreement the EU has negotiated with other countries like Canada, and although we continue to have useful discussions in all areas, a number of significant gaps continue to remain in key areas including fisheries and subsidies.    We will not compromise on what it means to be an independent and sovereign nation to secure an agreement."

Quote of the day 29th September 2020

“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” (I believe this quote actually comes from former US president Woodrow Wilson though I have also seen this or very similar statements attributed to Winston Churchill and Mark Twain. I was reminded of it last night when I spent the whole evening preparing my comments to the DC&R meeting on Friday. It took me an hour to prepare the first draft of what I wanted to say - and four hours to cut it from eight minutes to five.)

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee

  Today in a major speech the Prime Minister has set out a new plan to transform the provision of skills so that we can help people to retrain and find new, well-paid jobs as part of our agenda to Build Back Better.   To better reflect Britain's changing economy and the impact of the pandemic, the government is developing a long-term plan to ensure that, as the nature of work changes, people have the skills to find and create new and better jobs.   The new Lifetime Skills Guarantee will provide adults in England without an A-Level or equivalent qualifications from April the opportunity to take up a free, fully funded college course. Alongside this, we are also making higher education loans more flexible, allowing people to space out their study across their lifetimes and take more high-quality vocational courses.    Today the Conservative government is sending out the clear message that it will help people get the skills they need at every stage of their lives, and deliver on the p

Don't forget to get your flu jab

 It is even more important than usual that we all get our flu jabs this year. Free for everyone over 50 (rather than the usual 60) and vulnerable groups.  Some employers (including mine) have organised free flu jabs for all employees under 50 as well. GP practices here in North Cumbria have started the annual flu vaccination programme. It is a bigger job than usual as they have to maintain social distancing to keep everyone safe. But the last thing we can afford this winter is the combination of another wave of the Coronavirus combined with the usual winter flu outbreak.  Both to protect yourself and your family - not least because people whose system is weakened by flu might well be more vulnerable to COVID-19 - and to protect the NHS so they can protect you, get your flu jab.

Recognising our NHS heroes

The Prime Minister has  announced  that doctors, nurses, fundraisers and volunteers who have made outstanding contributions to the UK’s coronavirus response will be recognised in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours list on Saturday 10 October. As we all redouble our efforts to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives this Winter, the Queen’s Birthday Honours list is an opportunity to recognise those who have given so much to this country already.    The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest health challenge in our lifetime. We all have to play our part, but the dedication, courage and compassion seen from these recipients, be it responding on the frontline or out in their communities providing support to the most vulnerable, is an inspiration to us all.    We owe them a debt of gratitude and the 2020 Queen’s Birthday honours will be the first of many occasions where we can thank them as a nation.


The Health Secretary has announced that large stockpiles of PPE items, such as face masks, visors and gowns, will be in place from November to provide a continuous flow of protective equipment to the frontline, helping to ensure our NHS and social care heroes always have the equipment they need. Ensuring Britain has an uninterrupted supply to meet the challenges in the coming months has been a priority - having already distributed over 3.5 billion items of PPE since the start of the pandemic.    That’s why the government is establishing stockpiles of critical equipment and have struck more than 300 supplier deals, meaning that almost three quarters of the PPE we now have access to, via robust and resilient supply chains, now comes from UK manufacturers – up from 1 per cent before the pandemic.    The government's PPE strategy will include further details of how we are building further resilience in order to be ready for a new wave of infections in the autumn, winter or beyond so th

Quote of the day 28th September 2020

"All humans are stupid but the smarter ones at least have a handle on their own ignorance." ( John Cleese , quoted in a Sunday times article by Matthew Syed, "When dogma beats data, reason s lost." Syed added "It is perhaps fitting that one of our greatest living comics has so perfectly summarised our darkly comical age." )

October meeting of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will meet online a week tomorrow, Monday 5th October 2020. The meeting will be live-streamed. The main agenda items will be  Urgent and Emergency Care & Elective Care (To consider a report from the North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust)  Winter care plans from both NCIC in the North of the county and from Morecambe Bay health trust in the South (which also covers part of Lancashire.) Full details of the meeting including the agenda papers and a link to watch the meeting can be found on the CCC website here .

Quote of the day 27th September 2020

  For some reason I cannot seem to persuade the blogger server to accept more images. However, I can use the large number I have already uploaded  - and here is one of the wisest. "There are no solutions, there are only trade-offs" is something that Thomas Sowell said long before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19, but it applies to the horrible choices which the virus imposes on us as it applies to many other things.

Sunday music spot: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Bach)

I saw a very amusing cartoon this weekend called "Eye test for musicians" which showed a lady in an opticians office staring at a letter test card on which the sequence of letters began with "A GA GFED C# D  AGA E F C# D  AGA GFED C# D" And she responds, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach." Took me a moment to work it out but the letters on the card do indeed represent the notes of the first few bars of that Toccata. I'm having great difficulty at the moment persuading blogger's server to upload new images but here is the Toccata and Fugue.

Saturday music spot: Handel "Let The Bright Seraphim"


West Cumbria Mining application to come back to committee on 2nd October 2020

Cumbria County Council's Development Control and Regulation committee (DC&R) voted unanimously to grant planning permission for the West Cumbria Mining planning application for an underground metallurgical coal mine on 19 March 2019. The decision was reaffirmed on 31 October 2019. A large part of the works involved in the application are in the area I represent. I repeat that this was a unanimous vote. After being presented with an 188 page report giving details of two years of work looking to all aspects of this application, and hearing hours of presentations and representations, every Conservative councillor present, every Labour councillor, every Lib/Dem and the Independent councillor backed the application. Since then the government spent some months considering a request from an MP on the other side of the county - who was, I am told by a colleague in that party, strongly rebuked by them for not consulting members of his party in West Cumbria before making it - to "ca

Sergeant Matiu "Matt" Ratana RIP

The police officer who was shot dead in Croydon yesterday has now been named as Sergeant Matiu Ratana (usually known as Matt.) Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick has released the following statement about him::  “Earlier today I said I would give more information about the terrible events of the early hours when I could. It is now my sad duty to confirm that our colleague who was killed was 54-year-old Matt Ratana, a custody sergeant.  “He joined the Met in 1991 and was captain of his recruit training class. Posted to Charing Cross and worked as a constable on the streets of the West End and Westminster in various roles. Later, he worked with the Territorial Support Group and in Hillingdon.   “In 2010 he worked as a sergeant in Hackney in the response team and in neighbourhoods. Five years later, in 2015, he moved to Croydon, where he worked in response, in neighbourhoods and then our detention command.  “In all, nearly 30 years spent as an uniformed officer serving t

Quote of the day 26th September 2020

 " A tad slow " even for second class post but " better late than never. " (Extract from the response of Zoe Fierro who on Tuesday received a letter from her late grandfather Ronald Smith, 22 years after he posted it and 21 years after he died.) 

A good crisis?

I was not at all impressed three days ago when  Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said coronavirus was a ‘good crisis’ to exploit , and she has still not apologised. CCHQ have suggested this shows that  Labour are more interested in playing politics than working in the national interest, and frankly, I think they have a point. When Sir Keir Starmer became Labour leader, he said he would work constructively with us through the coronavirus pandemic, not just opposition for opposition’s sake.   But three days on, and his Shadow Education Secretary has still not apologised for her appalling comments saying, ‘I think we should use this opportunity, don’t let a good crisis go to waste’.   Sir Keir Starmer should condemn these comments. His continued failure to take action can only be seen as an endorsement of playing party politics with this crisis. 

Tragic news from Croydon

Home Secretary Priti Patel has released a statement saying she is “deeply shocked and saddened” following reports a police officer was shot dead in the early hours of this morning in south London.  The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that the incident took place at approximately 02:15hrs at Croydon Custody Centre on Windmill Lane.  The officer was shot by a man being detained at the centre and later died in hospital of gunshot wounds. A 23-year-old man was detained by officers at the scene. He was also taken to hospital with a gunshot wound and remains in a critical condition.  The Met Police have confirmed that no police firearms were discharged during the incident. This is terrible news. Our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day. It is something we must never forget or fail to be grateful for. 

Action to protect out climate must not become another victim of coronavirus

Yesterday at the virtual UN Climate Action Roundtable, the Prime Minister  called  on nations across the world to commit to taking ambitious action on climate change and chart a path to a greener and more sustainable recovery from coronavirus, and in doing so, secure the planet for the next generation.   As the world continues to deal with coronavirus, we must look ahead to how we will rebuild, and how we can seize the opportunity to build back better.    The UK will lead by example, keeping the environment on the global agenda and serving as a launch pad for a global green industrial revolution. But no one country can turn the tide – that is why on 12 December when we co-host with the UN an event to mark the five year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement, we will use the opportunity to ask world leaders to announce new and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions that reflect the highest possible ambition, net-zero commitments, ambitious adaptation plans and bold new climat

The Winter economy plan

As Britain's response to the coronavirus pandemic adapts, the Chancellor has updated the House of Commons on our Winter Economy Plan, the next phase of our economic response as we continue protecting jobs throughout the winter months.  As the government takes the difficult but necessary measures to keep the virus under control, they will will continue to take steps to protect jobs, livelihoods, and businesses across the United Kingdom.   Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Britain has put in place one of the largest and most comprehensive response economic response packages in the world, providing over £190 billion of support to protect jobs, incomes, and businesses; and launched our ambitious Plan for Jobs and New Deal to help build Britain back better and secure our economic recovery.    In the face of unprecedented challenges, Britain has repeatedly found creative and innovative ways to support jobs and livelihoods to ensure no one was left behind, and will continue to apply that

Quote of the day 25th September 2020

"Dishonest statistics really are toxic, because if we want to use numbers to see the world clearly, we need to be able to evaluate them calmly. We must allow for our emotional reactions, our preconceived ideas and our political leanings. "At the risk of sounding like Yoda with a calculator, one must resist the fog of anger, denial and wishful thinking if we are to keep the numbers straight in our minds. "Even when a computer is calling the shots, softer human skills are needed. What has distinguished science from alchemy is not skill or the experimental method but the fact that science has a culture of discussion, scrutiny and the public display of evidence." ( Tim Harford , writing in the Sunday Times) 

The NHS Covid-19 app

Today the NHS Covid-19 app  launched  across England and Wales for those aged 16 and over to use to help us control the transmission of the virus, as we continue to use every tool at our disposal to keep this virus under control. Britain is now at the tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus, and with infections rates rising once again, the government aims to make it as easy as possible for everyone in England and Wales to engage in our NHS Test and Trace services.    The government has have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts to develop an app that is secure and simple to use and will work alongside traditional contact tracing to help reduce the spread of this virus, by allowing people to find out if they are risk of having caught the virus and need to self-isolate, order a test if they have symptoms and access the right guidance and advice – all through their smartphone.   This is a significant step f

Quote of the day 24th September 2020

"Boris Johnson’s politics and personality do not appeal to everyone. There will be many who have cogent criticisms to make of his inability to acknowledge past mistakes that cost lives and his failure to explain present reversals of advice. Some loathe his face, his voice and his character so deeply that they will have barely taken in a word he said."  "Yet for many more people, the person delivering these grim tidings is neither here nor there. Boris was elected less than a year ago and he is simply doing his job. What they do care about is whether he knows what he is doing. The prospect of a return to lockdown terrifies them and they will be relieved that this danger has been averted, at least for the moment. "When Johnson claims that “this broad approach is shared across the whole UK”, most would not dissent. Indeed, it is striking that neither the other parties nor the devolved administrations, all of whom are led by enemies of the PM, have publicly denounced hi

The Spectator, the Co-Op and cancel culture.

Fascinating article by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator about how an obnoxious anti-free speech outfit with the innocent-sounding name of "Stop funding hate" tricked the Co-op into what could have been a nasty misunderstanding - fortunately now resolved - with the Spectator. A welcome instance where the argument for free speech was successful. The Co-op actually has the following excellent policy which some junior employees apparently didn't know about or understand. 'We will not seek to affect the editorial independence of publications or channels. We will not undermine the commercial value of our society for our members. We will ensure our values and principles are clear and undiminished regardless of surrounding content.' Fraser Nelson learns the following three lessons from "This wee drama:- 1. Cancel culture is now rebounding on corporates who engage with it. The joke – go woke, go broke – contains some truth. Companies wisely stay out of party political

Between Scylla and Charybdis

In a recent discussion on Facebook about the relative merits in the forthcoming US elections of a vote for Donald Trump versus one for Joe Biden, one of my university contemporaries posted pictures representing Scylla and Charybdis - a reference from Greek mythology to two opposing threats, in this case two legendary sea monsters described by Homer as endangering sailors passing through the straits of Messina between Sicily and Italy, one on each side. Any ancient mariner who plotted their course far enough from one of these mythical monsters to be safe from that threat was said to be in danger from the other. But such an unenviable choice is not just a challenge for US voters this November. Every country in the world is faced with equally unenviable choices about how much priority to give to protecting citizens from COVID-19 and how much to preserving our economies, hit as a result of the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it with the worst recession for three hundred year

Boris Johnson's address to the nation 22nd September 2020

For anyone who missed it and has not had a chance to see it since, this is the broadcast which the Prime Minister made last night about the action being taken to prevent a second wave of the Coronavirus.

Protecting British troops from vexatious claims

Those who serve our country in Britain's Armed Forces should not be - and are not - above the law but neither should they be the subject of vexatious and false claims. So I welcome the Second Reading today in parliament of the landmark Overseas Operation Bill which will deliver on the Conservative manifesto commitment to tackle vexatious claims against our troops serving overseas. Our Armed Forces put themselves in harm’s way day in, day out, to keep our country safe – so it’s only right that we protect them from unfounded and vexatious claims.    The Overseas Operations Bill will prevent the continued legal pursuit of our troops where there is no new evidence by making the first amendments in law to the HRA. A new five-year limit on the time in which troops can be subject to legal claims, apart from in exceptional circumstances, will help stop unfounded allegations.    By ending the cycle of reinvestigations and vexatious claims that can plague our veterans, while ensuring victims

Coronavirus update 23rd September 2020

 Update from the government received today: "Last night, the Prime Minister  addressed the nation  outlining that although there are difficult months to come if we follow these simple rules together – the new restrictions outlined yesterday, the rule of six and remember Hands, Face and Space – we will get through this winter together. At every stage of this pandemic we have struck a delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS and minimising the wider impact of our restrictions.   It is because of the common sense and fortitude of the British people that earlier this year we were able to avert an even worse catastrophe. But we always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. As in Spain and France and many other countries, we have reached a perilous turning point.   On Monday, the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser warned that the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days

Midweek music spot: 'Phantom of The Opera' Sarah Brightman & Antonio Banderas


Quote of the day 23rd September 2020

 "The tragic reality of having COVID is that your mild cough can be someone else's death knell." (PM Boris Johnson , in his address to the nation last night)

Quote of the day: PM Boris Johnson's statement to Parliament today on COVID-19 rules

  Here is the full text of the PM's speech .  "Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will make a statement on our response to the rising number of Coronavirus cases and how we must act now to avoid still graver consequences later on.  At every stage in this pandemic we have struck a delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS and minimising the wider impact of our restrictions. And it is because of the common sense and fortitude of the British people that earlier this year we were able to avert an even worse catastrophe, forming a human shield around our NHS, and then by getting our country moving again by reopening key sectors of our economy and returning children to school.  But we always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. And I am sorry to say that - as in Spain and France and many other countries - we have reached a perilous turning point.  A month ago, on average

Tuesday music spot: the "Holding Out For A Hero" action sequence from Shrek II

The scene from Shrek II where the evil Fairy Godmother, voiced by Jennifer Saunders, is singing "I need a hero" while the real hero and his friends are breaking into the castle is one of the most perfectly constructed and brilliantly funny animated sequences of all time.  I still find myself spotting clever details that I'd previously missed when I watch it - this time how the captain of the guard shouts "Incoming!" to warn his catapult crew to get clear of a approaching giant gumdrop button!   The only slight catch is that the hero looks and sounds exactly like one of the strongest contenders for the title of worst Prime Minister this country has ever had, a designation for which there has been a lot of competition.  Perhaps the message of the film's ending is that the heroine, Fiona, prefers Shrek when he looks like an Ogre rather than like that PM ...

Flu Jabs

This year the government and NHS are offering a record number of people the flu vaccine – to pull out all the stops for what is likely to be a particularly challenging winter.  New Public Health England research suggests that people infected with both flu and coronavirus were more than twice as likely to die, compared to those with coronavirus alone. These people are also more at risk of severe illness.   This year, the government is offering 30 million people the free flu vaccine, the highest number ever. Some people, including myself, will be offered it for the first time ever, as eligibility criteria have been widened. The unprecedented vaccine drive will be supported by a scaled-up marketing campaign across TV, radio and digital advertising – the ‘Just’ The Flu campaign. Eligible people will also receive direct reminders prompting them to book their appointment, helping to drive uptake among their registered eligible patients.   With the simultaneous risk of flu and coronavirus, ma

COVID-19 Alert Level Raised

Today the PM will address Parliament and broadcast to the nation where he will set out the further measures we will take to tackle coronavirus. The coronavirus alert level has  moved from Level 3 to Level 4  after the data showed the number of cases was rising rapidly. As the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser said, we are at a critical point in the pandemic.    To tackle the spread of coronavirus, the Prime Minister has announced that all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality in England will be required to close by 10pm from this Thursday. The hospitality sector will also be restricted by law to table service only.    Cabinet will meet this morning ahead of the Prime Minister setting out the changes in a statement to Parliament. He will also bring together the COBR committee with Cabinet Ministers and First Ministers to discuss the surge in cases.    No-one underestimates the challenges the new measures will pose to many individuals and businesses. We know this