Monday, November 30, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
The actor David Prowse MBE, who I remember as the Green Cross Code man - has died at the age of 85. That is the role of which he was most proud and for which he was honoured by the Queen, although he is probably better known to many as the man inside the helmet, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.
His voice was replaced by that of James Earl Jones, and his face at the very end of the trilogy by that of Sebastian Shaw, but it was David Prowse who filled the black robes and helmet and provided the looming, sinister onscreen presence which dominates the films.
But as has been noted today, the man who played one of the most memorable iconic villains of all time was most proud of, and was honoured for, his work helping to save the lives of children. That is what I will most remember him for.
Rest in Peace.
Happy New Year!
No, that isn't a typo or a mistake. Advent Sunday is the first day of the Church's year.
Today we reach the end of a truly awful ecclesiastical year, and near the end of an equally awful calendar one - 2020 has been a year the likes of which none of us will ever want to repeat, one of the most difficult and challenging around the world that most of us can ever remember.
The first Sunday in Advent, Advent Sunday, as well as being the first day of a new Church year is also the official start of the run up to the Christmas season.
Of course, the shops have been full of Christmas stuff for months - this time since even before Halloween - and I would normally make a few mildly caustic comments about that, but not this year. The retail sector has been having a terrible time - as what is happening to Arcadia shows, from the largest national retail chain down to he smallest corner shop - and I can't blame any retailer for taking all possible safe and legal measures to get as much business as possible, in order to try to keep their businesses afloat and as many as practical of their employees in jobs.
But now we have finally reached the point where it is officially appropriate to display Christmas messages and decorations, sing Christmas carols, and look forward to Christmas.
Advent is about looking forward to someone or something who is coming: for Christians it means the baby Jesus. This winter we are also looking forward in hope that the brilliant scientific teams who have been working on a treatment which might liberate us from this dreadful pandemic will finally have a safe, effective vaccine approved and ready to be issued. For a little longer we still have to follow the social distancing rules to protect one another but hope is on the horizon.
I will post a formal Christmas greeting later in the Advent season, but as we near the end of this ghastly time I hope that everyone who reads this - yes, I really do mean everyone - finds some peace and happiness over this Christmas season.
Here is a link to a lovely Advent service published on Facebook this morning by my local church, St James' Whitehaven, and the Whitehaven mission community.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Almost all of the world's richer nations have at some point agreed to work towards a United Nations target to spend 0.7% of their GDP on aid to people in the poorest countries of the world.
In 2013, under a Conservative-led government, Britain became the first G7 country to actually hit that target and we have met it every year since then.
For the last seven years Britain has been one of very few rich countries - about half a dozen - which actually met or exceeded that target in direct government development aid.
Britain is also the only NATO country which has hit both the 0.7% aid target and the NATO target to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Britain takes our international obligations for both aid and defence as seriously as any other nation and more than most.
On top of government aid, the British people as individuals are also some of the most generous in the charitable aid they give voluntarily on top of the aid paid for out of our taxes, which makes Britain one of the most generous rich countries on the planet in terms of the help we give to the world's poorest.
So it is with great regret that during the present domestic economic emergency the government has made the decision to temporarily reduce international aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GDP.
(Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief executive, referring to an innovative blood test that may spot more than 50 types of cancer and which will be piloted by the NHS in a world-leading study.
The Galleri blood test can detect early stage cancers and will be piloted with 165,000 patients.
Friday, November 27, 2020
The mainstream media - press and television - are mortal human beings and like almost every other group of mortal human beings most of them try to do a good job and all of them make mistakes occasionally.
I have always strongly opposed attempts such as Leveson to increase controls on the press, because however imperfect a relatively free press is - and believe me, I understand that they sometimes have a lot to answer for - a free press, even a sometimes feckless and irresponsible one, serves the public interest far better than would news organisations who only publish what the government allow them to publish.
A high proportion of peopled involve in politics think that the newspapers, TV or both are biased against their political perspective, sometimes even when this utterly strains credibility - for example, as someone who voted Remain myself, I never ceased to be amazed by the proportion of ardent Remain supporters who think that the BBC gave the Leave campaign too easy a ride.
Becoming too convinced that the media are out to get people of your political view is usually a reliable indicator that someone is starting to lose touch at best with a significant proportion of their fellow citizens and at worst with reality. Getting all your news from social media outlets which churn out what you want to hear and blocking anyone who says things you don't want to hear is a good way to risk turning yourself into a divisive fanatic.
Which makes it all the more infuriating when the media circles the wagons around their own and declines to pay any attention to a story which it is in the public interest to publish, leaving it to mavericks like Guido Fawkes or worse, egregious propaganda outlets for unpleasant regimes which for once have found a true story which fits their agenda, to inform the public of what has happened.
I am no fan of the leave campaigner Arron Banks, but given that the media gave a massive amount of attention to stories accusing him of malpractice in relation to the EU referendum, they ought to have given equal prominence to what has happened in various official investigations and court cases which resulted from those allegations.
I have previously written that I think it is disgraceful that much of the media, with some honourable exceptions, gave far less prominence to the story when Arron Banks was cleared by the National Crime agency last year of any criminal wrongdoing in the Brexit referendum than they had to the original allegations. Natural justice should demand that someone being cleared of charges is given equal prominence to the original charges.
Even after he was cleared people who ought to know better still accused him of having been found to have broken the law - one or two, such as Carole Cadwalladr, have been forced to apologise for it.
Carole Cadwalladr was given the Orwell Prize for journalism for a story about Brexit which has not aged well, to such an extent that if the Orwell Foundation want to retain a shred of credibility they should seriously consider revoking the award. She is currently being sued for libel by Arron Banks, and I am disappointed by the failure of the mainstream media, who reported her original allegations extensively, to report on what has happened in that court case, in which there have been twists and turns favouring each side in turn, but the most recent development ought to be a game changer.
Although there appear to be almost no reports on national television or in major national newspapers about this, it has been published in at least four places - Guido Fawkes, the Press Gazette, the egregious Putin mouthpiece RT (formerly Russia Today) and lawyers representing Carole Cadwalladr herself, that she has withdrawn the "truth" defence in the libel action which Banks has brought against her.
Cadwalladr is still defending the action on the basis of a "public interest" defence. The Press Gazette report says that, quote
"This defence means arguing the statement in contention was a matter of public interest and that Cadwalladr believed it was in the public interest to publish it."
Presumably, since she is no longer defending her position on the basis that what she wrote was actually true, this infers that she believed it at the time of publication but no longer does.
And if that is so the mainstream news organisations have a duty to inform the public, particularly those who - whether they want to hear this or not - campaigned to overturn the Brexit referendum on the basis of a belief that the referendum result was invalid for which one of the key pieces of evidence underpinning that belief has now been withdrawn by its' author.
That story is in the public interest to be told and it should not be left to Guido, let alone RT, to tell it.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
This evening, Colin Cox, Director of Public Health for Cumbria, will host a live Q&A session on Cumbria County Council's Facebook page between 7.30pm - 8.30pm.
Tune in to hear the latest coronavirus updates for Cumbria and feel free to ask a question.
If you are on FB you should be able to access it via this link:
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
SPENDING REVIEW 2020
DELIVERING THE BRITISH PEOPLE’S PRIORITIES
GOVERNMENT BUDGETS FOR THE FINANCIAL YEAR 2021-22
While the health emergency is not yet over, the economic emergency has only just begun.
So, today’s Spending Review delivers on the priorities of the British people
The government's immediate priority is to protect people’s lives and livelihoods as we respond to the coronavirus.
But we will also deliver
- - stronger public services
- - more hospitals, better schools and safer streets
. And deliver a once in a generation investment in infrastructure, creating jobs, growing the economy, and increasing pride in the places people call home.
This is a shared project
– a common endeavour to build a better nation to which every person and business in our country has a contribution to make.
That unfinished work, irrespective of coronavirus, continues at pace as we emerge stronger and more united from this pandemic.
The Spending Review 2020 is set in a difficult and challenging economic context
The Office of Budget responsibility (OBR) have forecast that the economy will contract this year by 11.3 per cent, which would be the largest fall in output for more than 300 years.
Even with growth returning, our economic output is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until the fourth quarter of 2022.
Due to long-term scarring, the economy in 2025 is now forecast to be around 3 per cent smaller than had been expected in assumptions which underpinned the March budget.
Additionally, despite the extraordinary support which the gove3rnment has provided, because of the damage done by COVID-19 to the nation's economy, unemployment is expected to rise to a peak of 7.5% (2.6 million people) in the second quarter of next year.
The economic impact of coronavirus has also caused a significant increase in borrowing and debt. In the OBR’s ‘central’ forecast, the UK is expected to borrow a total of £394 billion this year
– equivalent to 19% of GDP, the highest level of borrowing in our peacetime history.
We are forecast to still be borrowing over £100 billion (4% of GDP) even in 2025.
Due to these elevated borrowing levels, and a persistent current deficit, underlying debt is forecast to continue rising every year, reaching 97.5 per cent of GDP
But the government will address this challenge.