Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Midweek music spot for Holy Week: "Have mercy upon me O Lord" from Bach's Matthew Passion

Vaccination update

 


Helping business to Build Back Better

Governments do not create wealth or sustainable jobs. Government can only employ people with the money raised from taxation - which comes from wealth created by Business.

So yesterday, the Prime Minister co-chaired the second meeting of the Build Back Better Business Council, discussing our plans to ensure that 2021 is a year of economic recovery supporting businesses to create good jobs.

  • The Prime Minister met with the Chancellor and Business Secretary to discuss how to help businesses recover, grow and seize new opportunities as we build back better from the pandemic. 
     
  • The Council meeting discussed our Plan for Growth, announcing over £30 million in research funding to support the development new ideas, products and processes that will put the UK at the forefront of new opportunities. 
     
  • With great progress already being made, the Plan for Growth sets our path to invest in infrastructure, skills and innovation so we can level up opportunity and prosperity across the country.

Revitalising Town Centres

The government has today announced further steps being taken to revitalise high streets and town centres, giving local communities a new lease of life as we build back better.

  • The previous twelve months have tested and challenged our cherished local high streets and town centres.
     
  • The planning reform measures announced today will allow the conversion of empty, boarded-up shops into caf├ęs, restaurants or even new homes, helping the high street to adapt and thrive for the future while creating jobs and homes for local people.
     
  • These new measures will revitalise our high streets and town centres, ensuring that they remain at the heart of local communities as we build back better.

When computers go wrong ...

I nearly fell off my chair this morning when I was handed an envelope containing a computer-generated letter from HMRC asking me to file a tax return for the tax year ending in April 2004.

Which was all the more astonishing given that, as the very helpful lady at HMRC confirmed when I rang to ask what was going on, I actually had filed such a return more than sixteen years ago when it was actually due (on 30th September 2004.)

It does appears to have been a computer error - which is to say, a mistake by a human computer programmer failing to allow for an unforeseen circumstance many years down the line.

I can laugh about it now but it was a bit of a shock when I opened the letter! 

 


Boris Johnson and other world leaders write about the pandemic

The joint article below was signed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and about 24 other world leaders including Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel,  the President of the European Council and the Director-General of the World Health Organisation. For the full list of signatories see here.


No government can address the threat of pandemics alone – we must come together.


"The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s.

At that time, following the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system. The aims were clear – to bring countries together, to dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism and to address the challenges that could only be achieved together in the spirit of solidarity and co-operation, namely peace, prosperity, health and security.

Today we hold the same hope that, as we fight to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic together, we can build a more robust international health architecture that will protect future generations.

There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. The question is not if, but when. Together, we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly co-ordinated fashion. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.

We are, therefore, committed to ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for this and future pandemics.

Immunisation is a global public good and we will need to be able to develop, manufacture and deploy vaccines as quickly as possible.

This is why the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) was set up in order to promote equal access to tests, treatments and vaccines and support health systems across the globe. ACT-A has delivered on many aspects, but equitable access is not achieved yet. There is more we can do to promote global access.

To that end, we believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. Such a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level. It would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organisation, drawing in other relevant organisations key to this endeavour, in support of the principle of health for all.

Existing global health instruments, especially the International Health Regulations, would underpin such a treaty, ensuring a firm and tested foundation on which we can build and improve.

The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all of government and all of society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. This includes greatly enhancing international co-operation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter-measures such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.

It would also include recognition of a “One Health” approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet. And such a treaty should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and co-operation within the international system and with its rules and norms.

To achieve this, we will work with heads of state and governments globally, and all stakeholders including civil society and the private sector. We are convinced that it is our responsibility, as leaders of nations and international institutions, to ensure that the world learns the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At a time when Covid-19 has exploited our weaknesses and divisions, we must seize this opportunity and come together as a global community for peaceful co-operation that extends beyond this crisis. Building our capacities and systems to do this will take time and require a sustained political, financial and societal commitment over many years.

Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and minimises the impact of future pandemics on our economies and our societies.

Pandemic preparedness needs global leadership for a global health system fit for this millennium. To make this commitment a reality, we must be guided by solidarity, fairness, transparency, inclusiveness and equity."

Quote of the day 31st March 2021

 "Let’s enjoy the sun but let’s do it safely. We have come so far, don’t blow it now."

(Tweet last night from Matt Hancock, health secretary)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Music spot for Tuesday in Holy Week: Bach's "O Sacred head Sore Wounded."

Proceed with caution

Yesterday, the Prime Minister urged people to proceed with caution as restrictions are eased and we continue on our cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom - and remember hands, face, space and fresh air.

  • Thanks to the sacrifices of people across the nation, the success of our vaccine programme and falling infection rates, yesterday we were able to take one small step to freedom with millions of people meeting up with loved ones outdoors - but as we continue along our roadmap, we must proceed with caution and continue to build the immunity of our population.
     
  • For many, April will be the ‘Second Dose Month’ and everybody is encouraged to take up their appointment when their turn comes as we push forwards with our efforts to offer a vaccination to all adults by the end of July.
     
  • As part of our fight against this virus, Britain is also building up our long-term UK manufacturing capabilities, and yesterday it was announced that GlaxoSmithKline will be carrying out the final stage of the manufacturing process for the Covid vaccine in the North East, giving us 50 to 60 million doses of UK made vaccine subject to approvals of the MHRA.
     
  • Whilst the government encourages everyone to have fun and get outdoors in the good weather, it is vital we continue to remember to wash our hands, cover our face, give people space and only meet others in the fresh air.

Excess deaths go negative

This is a hugely significant graph but we need to think very carefully before jumping to conclusions about what it means.


In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic the number of excess deaths compared with five year averages for the relevant time of year significantly exceeded identified COVID deaths in Britain and nearly all other countries where it was possible to make a comparison,

This was probably partly due to an underestimate of the impact of COVID and partly due to indirect effects, for example people not going to hospital for fear of getting COVID and dying of conditions for which they would otherwise have gone and been successfully treated.

In the second wave this went into reverse in Britain and many other countries which publish reasonably accurate and honest statistics (not necessarily in those where "official" stats are an arm of state propaganda, see here for an example.)

This is harder to explain and may not represent the true long term picture but one part of the explanation is that measures taken against COVID-19 have not just reduced the number of people we lost to the Coronavirus itself but also saved lives which would otherwise have been lost to other diseases. For example, flu deaths have almost been wiped out this year. COVID may have killed some people who would otherwise have died of flu, measures taken against COVID almost certainly also saved the lives of some people who without those measures have died of flu.

It's important to appreciate that the data we have today do not give the whole picture of the impact that events which have already happened will ultimately cause. Even if we can get deaths from COVID down to minimal levels this summer and keep them there, we will be picking up the pieces from the pandemic for the better part of a decade in health terms - five years from now the indirect effects of the pandemic such as later diagnosis of cancer, heart disease and other conditions will still be causing deaths 

The ONS chart above shows total deaths, COVID deaths, and five year averages over the course of the pandemic to date and illustrates how excess deaths exceeded identified Coronavirus deaths in the first wave but were less than identified Coronavirus deaths in the second wave.

What is really interesting - and I will admit, surprising - is that in the last two weeks excess deaths appear to have gone negative.

I don't have an explanation for this and I think we need to be very careful not to leap to conclusions. I'm sure people will use this data to support all manner of previously held political theories and I'm equally sure that most of those people will be using it as the proverbial drunken man uses a lamp-post - for support rather than illumination.

There are still people dying around the world from COVID and as the saying goes, until we're all safe nobody is safe.



Outdoor sport resumes this week

With outdoor sport returning, the Prime Minister has urged people to get out and get active so we can build back fitter, healthier and happier from this pandemic.

  • We all understand how much all of us have missed the camaraderie and competition of organised sport, and how difficult restrictions on physical activities have been, and we are determined to help people emerge from lockdown more active.
     
  • That is why with teams returning to outdoor pitches, courts, parks and fields today, the Prime Minister has urged everyone to target at least sixty minutes of activity a week for their children, or two and a half hours for adults, and we are working with schools to see how we can get children fit and fully active in the coming months, both at school and during the holidays.
     
  • Sport and physical activity are at the heart of our national recovery, and by giving everyone the chance to pursue the activities they love we can build back fitter and healthier from this pandemic.

Quote of the day 30th March 2021

"The JCVI has advised that household members of people who are immunosuppressed should be prioritised for vaccination. Many of those aged 50+ will already have been vaccinated, but I urge everyone eligible who has not yet had one to get their jab asap."

(Nadhim Zahawi, Vaccines minister)


If you are over 50, do not have any special reasons why you have been advised by medical professionals not to take an anti-COVID-19 vaccination, and have not yet had an invitation to be vaccinated, RING 119 between 7am and 11 pm on any day of the week and they can arrange to book a vaccination appointment for you.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Vaccination update

More than 95% of people in the UK over 60 have now had at least one jab - an amazing takeup rate.

If you're over 50, or if you are over 16 and are or live with someone who has a suppressed immune system, and have not yet had your first vaccination or made an appointment to do so, ring 119 between 7am and 11 pm and book your jab.




First steps towards and end of the lockdown

From today, groups of six or two households are allowed to meet outside so long as they socially distance as we proceed cautiously with our next step towards unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.

  • The sacrifices made by the British public and the success of our vaccine programme take us closer to defeating this awful virus every day – but it is still in circulation and we must remain cautious.
     
  • The progress we have made means that from today, we are able to proceed with the next steps in our cautious roadmap out of this pandemic and ease some restrictions on meeting people outdoors in the fresh air where the risk of catching the disease is far lower by:

    • Lifting the ‘stay at home’ guidance – it is no longer essential you remain indoors, but you should still work from home if possible and minimise the number of journeys you take.
       
    • Allowing up to six people – or two households – to meet outdoors, in public spaces or private gardens, meaning families can safely be together with their loved ones over Easter.
       
    • Reopening outdoor sports facilities including swimming pools, golf courses, sports pitches and courts to enable sports to resume, including team sports, meaning many grassroots competitions will be able to go ahead.
       
  • These measures will come as a massive relief after a challenging few months, but as we rediscover the connections and activities that are so vital to our lives and mental health it is vital we continue to remember to wash our hands, cover our face, give people space and only meet others in the fresh air.

If you had your first jab nearly three months ago, don't forget to get the second jab

The first dose of #Covid19 vaccine offers a high level of protection, but to get longer-lasting protection everyone will need to get a second dose 



Supporting Rugby

The government has announced an £80 million package of financial support for Premiership Rugby clubs – supporting clubs and local communities as we return to normality.

  • Restrictions on spectators continue to have consequences for many sports and especially on elite Rugby Union clubs, which relies on much of their income coming through spectators.
     
  • So the Culture Secretary has announced £80 million in loan support to Premiership Rugby clubs, building on the more than £45 million in support provided previously to support grassroots rugby to safeguarding the thousands of clubs who are on the brink as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
     
  • This funding will allow the league to complete its season and support the survival of Premiership Rugby, safeguarding our sporting institutions as we build back better.

Restoring the nation's mental health

One of the things which has taken a battering from the pandemic and from successive lockdowns is the nation's mental health.

So I was pleased to see that the government has announced a new Mental Health Recovery Action Plan backed by £500 million, expanding mental health services to ensure everyone is able to access the support they need.

  • As we recover from the pandemic, we need to respond to the impact it has had on many people’s mental health and wellbeing, especially frontline staff, young people and other groups that have been most affected.
     
  • The Mental Health Recovery Action Plan is backed by £500 million of funding and includes new, targeted initiatives to help those most affected by the pandemic as well as a boost to existing NHS services, supporting 1.6 million people with their mental health this year.
     
  • This plan will ensure that everyone will be able to access the mental health support they need as we build back better from the pandemic.

Quote of the day 29th March 2021

"Alex Salmond has plunged a stake into the heart of Scottish democracy"


(Brian Monteith, title of article in "The Scotsman" which you can read here.)


There may be one or two people reading this who fall about laughing to see me endorsing an article by former MSP Brian Monteith. But on this one he is absolutely right.

No electoral system is perfect but the AMS electoral system first used in Germany and adopted for the Scottish parliament has been one of the more successful ones at combining a constituency voice with a proportionate result.

Salmond's "Supermajority" strategy of putting up candidates for his "Alba" party only in the party list section is a clever attempt to sabotage the mechanisms in the AMS system designed to make it proportional, so as to gain an over-proportional representation for separatist votes.

He's saying to pro-Independence voters, "Give your constituency votes to the SNP and your list vote to me and we not only won't split the nationalist vote, we'll get more seats for the same number of votes."

The most effective way to restore balance would be for unionist candidates not to oppose one another in the constituency elections just as nationalist ones are not.

That may, however, be easier said than done.

If not the future of the Scotland may rest on the question of whether the former first minister may have been too clever for his own good - and the spectacle of two rival camps of nationalists who transparently loathe one another knocking six bells out of each other may do both of them enough harm to offset the benefits they gain from "gaming " the system. 

SNP hegemony in Scotland has been built on a combination of iron party discipline and the fact that separatists have been united while unionists have been divided. In the short term the Salmond strategy may be very clever. In the medium term it may be as disastrous for the nationalists as it could be for unionists, and Scotland, in the short term.

Music for a Monday evening: Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Mandolins

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Coronavirus restrictions

 

Last week the House of Commons voted to extend the Coronavirus Act for six months, with the aim of keeping the infection rate down while continuing along a cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom. It is important  that  we have the tools needed to fight the virus and support livelihoods in the months ahead. But it will not be forever.

  • These coronavirus measures have been critical in our fight to reduce infections, hospital admissions and deaths, and thanks to the efforts of the British people, we are continuing to make strong progress. 
     
  • While we are ending as many national restrictions as safely as possible, it is vital that we retain those which remain necessary and proportionate to control infections, allow key public services to function and allow us to deliver the supportive measures that will protect jobs and livelihoods including the furlough scheme.
     
  • We do not want to live under any restrictions longer than needed, and while our historic vaccine programme accelerates, by sticking to our cautious and irreversible roadmap, we will return to our normal way of life.


China

This Foreign Secretary has condemned China’s decision to impose sanctions on nine UK citizens – including members of Parliament. It was also jointly condemned by Boris Johnson and President Biden.

  • It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics.
     
  • The evidence of widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang cannot be ignored - including mass detention and surveillance, reports of torture and forced sterilisation. If Beijing wants to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to verify the truth.
     
  • The international community will not look the other way and will continue to hold the Chinese authorities to account for their actions.

First doses in the UK pass thirty million:

 


Palm Sunday music spot: "Ride on, ride on in majesty" - King's College, Cambridge.

Quote of the day 28th March 2021

"We've made enormous progress that we need to build on and not squander the gains we've made,"

 the prospects "look immeasurably brighter and more positive" but the easing of some lockdown restrictions "does not mean job done".

(NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis on Britain's progress out of lockdown and the need to avoid complacency.)

Reminder: 




Saturday, March 27, 2021

Clocks go forward tonight

British Summer time starts in the early hours of tomorrow morning (Sunday 28th March 2021, which is also Palm Sunday.)

So we lose an hour, jumping straight from 2am GMT to 3am BST. If you use timekeeping devices which don't automatically adjust, remember to put them forward!


Saturday music spot: Handel's overture from Solomon (a.k.a. "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba")

Supporting the vulnerable

This week the Housing Secretary announced the next phase of a flagship programme to support vulnerable families in society, backed by £165 million, which will help us bring about lasting change to many more lives.

  • Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have all seen what can be achieved when government, local authorities and agencies work together to support some of the most vulnerable families in our communities. 
     
  • The next phase of the government's newly renamed Supporting Families programme will continue this important work, backed by £165 million in 2021-22, helping families with multiple complex problems to overcome difficulties as early as possible, as part of our mission to tackle intergenerational unemployment, crime, domestic abuse and family breakdown. Since 2015, over 870,000 families have benefited from the programme’s ‘whole family’ approach to tackling problems. 
     
  • As we build back better and fairer from coronavirus, it is more important than ever to stand behind the most vulnerable families in our society, empowering them to turn their lives around and achieve their potential.

More doctors and nurses

Figures released this week show that the number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS across England is at a record high – we are on track to fulfil the Conservative `manifesto pledge of to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 - partly by more recruitment, partly by increased retention - during the course of this Parliament.

  • Our incredible doctors and nurses have been at the forefront of our response to this pandemic, and over the past 12 months, have confirmed what we already knew – that our NHS and its staff deliver the best care in the world. 
     
  • We are delighted to see there are more doctors and nurses working in the NHS than ever before, with over 123,000 doctors and 301,000 nurses across England, representing an increase of almost 6,600 more doctors and over 10,900 more nurses than last year; while applications to study nursing have risen by 34 per cent in the same period. 
     
  • As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, our expanding NHS workforce will help provide the world-class care patients deserve and continue to deliver the life-saving vaccines that will secure our path back to normality.

Quote of the day 27th March 2021

"While this is a tolerant society in which religious freedom is enshrined in law, this does not mean that ..." anyone has " ... a right not to be offended. There is a vital distinction between inciting hatred against Muslims, which is against the law, and satirising or criticising Islam, which is not."

(Daniel Johnson, from an article on the Batley Grammar School affair, which you can read in full here.)

Friday, March 26, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Handel's Pastoral Symphony, from the Messiah

Quotes of the day 26th March 2021

 "Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice. If that brings the anger of China down upon me then I shall wear that as a badge of honour."

(Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former Conservative party leader)


"I view this as a direct assault on British democracy and an attempt to silence the British people who have chosen me to speak for them - if that isn't an assault on British sovereignty, I don't know what is."

(Tom Tugendhat MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee)


"The imposition of tit-for-tat sanctions is a crude attempt to silence criticism," and the "first duty of a parliamentarian is to use their voice on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced".

(Lord David Alton, Liberal Democrat peer and former MP)


IDS, Tom Tugendhat and Lord Alton are three of the nine British citizens and four UK organisations, who include five serving MPs, academics and lawyers against whom the PRC announced tit-for-tat sanctions today, after the UK and EU announced sanctions against the PRC for their human rights violations against the Uighur people.

This morning the Foreign Secretary condemned China’s decision to impose these sanctions on nine UK citizens.

Dominic Raab said,

"It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics."

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Thursday music spot Amadeus perform the finale of "Winter" from Vivaldi's four seasons

I'm not sure that the sound or video fully do justice to what must have been quite a remarkable performance, but from what I know of the composer I bet Vivaldi himself would have absolutely loved this.

Quote of the day 25th March 2021

"I often wonder what some of the people who often reply to me do for a living.

Then I think, Dear God I hope it's nothing important."


(Twitter user yesterday, who uses the handle "Sir Septimus Pyecroft"

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that this is my reaction to most of those who put posts on this blog, at least not the ones who identify themselves with either their real name or a consistent pen-name.

One or two of the anonymous posters, however ...)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Midweek music spot: "'Phantom of The Opera" theme sung by Sarah Brightman & Antonio Banderas

Four trade hubs announced

The government has announced the creation of four new major new Trade and Investment Hubs across the country, channelling the economic benefits of UK trade directly into every part of our Union.

  • As we chart a new course as a sovereign trading nation, every part of our Union should benefit from the new opportunities of Global Britain.
     
  • That is why Trade Secretary Liz Truss is creating four new trade hubs in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Darlington, which will channel investment into all corners of the country, and that exporters – whether they’re selling Scotch beef, Welsh Lamb or cars made in the North of England – have access to the support they need to sell into the fastest growing markets.
     
  • This will ensure that we can promote British exports from all parts of the UK, levelling up as we build back better.

Avoiding a vaccine was

 Pleased to see the PM working with German chancellor Angela Merkel to try to prevent the EU's dispute with AstraZeneca expanding into a vaccination war.

Supporting families to go green

This week the government announced the launch of a £562 million fund to help upgrade households with green improvements – ensuring households across England and Scotland enjoy warmer homes that are cheaper to heat and more carbon-friendly.

  • Emissions from domestic properties currently account for around 25 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions, with low-income households often the hardest hit by fuel poverty.
     
  • The £562 million investment will fund a nationwide upgrade of some of our least energy efficient and fuel-poor homes, as part of our commitment to invest over £9 billion into increasing our building’s energy efficiency. 50,000 low-income households and social housing properties will be helped, at the same time as supporting 8,000 green jobs for local plumbers, builders and tradespeople.
     
  • This will ensure households enjoy warmer homes that are cheaper to heat and emit fewer emissions, as we build back greener from the pandemic.

Darwin Tower to be restored

Delighted to read that the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee tower at the top of the hill overlooking Darwen, and almost invariably known as Darwen Tower, is to be restored.


My paternal grandparents' house in Darwen was at the edge of the town opposite Bold Venture Park at the junction of Manor Road and Belgrave Road, next to one of the routes you can take when walking from Darwen up to the tower. Walking up to the Tower was one of my favourite walks when visiting them as a child.

I learn from LancsLive that Work to restore Darwen Tower is on track to start next month, the council has confirmed.

The restoration will include repairs to Belgrave Road, the main access track to the 123-year-old Grade II listed building, built in 1898 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Blackburn with Darwen Council have given further details of the renovation and employed an ecologist to ensure nearby wildlife, particularly bats and ground nesting birds, will not be harmed.

Delicate restoration work by a specialist contractor will include the use of lime mortar to repoint its walls to ensure they are weatherproof and watertight.

The £305,000 project includes repairs to the rainwater disposal system, to weather damage and the deck of the upper observation level; replacement polycarbonate windows; and the installation of information boards.

The work is expected to be completed by September 2021.

Quote of the day 24th March 2021

 "We don't believe in blockades of any kinds of vaccines."

(Boris Johnson at the Downing Street Press conference last night)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Remembering


 



















Today marks the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, an opportunity to reflect on the past year, one of the most difficult in our country's history.

The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and we offer our sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

We should also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year. We have all played our part, whether it’s working on the front line as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, home schooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all.

Tuesday music spot: Pachelbel's Canon played by a harp ensemble.

Green transport

The government has announced £54 million to fund the next generation of green trucks and buses to be developed here in the UK – securing thousands of high skilled green jobs, as we build back greener.

  • The UK is leading the world by developing cutting edge technology that will help to tackle climate change and lead to a green, competitive future for our automotive supply chain.
     
  • This £54 million investment will be targeted at innovative green projects across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – helping to secure nearly 10,000 jobs and while saving 45 million tonnes of CO₂. This announcement builds on the recent launch of the national Bus Back Better strategy and the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, both of which will help us shift to zero emission vehicles and decarbonise the UK’s transport networks.
     
  • These projects will not only help accelerate the wider application of greener technology in lorries and buses, but will also help generate the high-skilled jobs to level up communities across the UK while ensuring we build back greener from the pandemic.

Quote of the day 23rd March 2021

"At least the vaccine row might undermine the ‘exports good, imports bad’ view of trade."


(David Gauke, former cabinet minister, on Twitter yesterday)

Monday, March 22, 2021

Violent protests condemned

The Home Secretary has condemned the unacceptable scenes, vandalism and violence against Police officers in Bristol last night.

  • This thuggery and disorder, committed by a small minority of the protesters, was completely unacceptable and will never be tolerated in our country.
     
  • Our police officers put themselves in harm’s way every day in order to protect us all – they deserve our respect and admiration – not the violence they suffered last night.
     
  • Our thoughts are with those police officers injured while putting themselves at risk in order to protect others.
     
  • Conservatives will always seek to give our police the powers and protection they need..

The UK Defence review

 Today the Defence Secretary outlined the new blueprint for Britain's Armed Forces through the Defence Command Paper - helping plan for the next 10 years with confidence and to ensure our nation’s defence is equipped to face the new and emerging threats we face in an increasingly competitive world.

  • As set out by the Prime Minister through the Integrated Review last week, as we strike out into the world as Global Britain our nation’s defence needs to continue to be prepared to protect our country’s interests and promote our values.
     
  • The changes outlined in this Command Paper, will set the course for a modernised, threat-focused, and sustainable Defence of the United Kingdom. Backed by £24 billion of additional funding for Defence over the next 4 years, it presents an unprecedented opportunity to modernise our Armed Forces, fit for the threats of a more competitive age and the opportunities of a Global Britain.
     
  • Alongside our allies and using all the new tools at our disposal, this will ensure we can face the threats of the future head on and that the UK’s Armed Forces are match-fit for a more competitive world.

Vaccine nationalism

As I have previously written, while any country has a serious COVID-19 outbreak none of us are safe. And a lot of the supply chains which provide PPE, drugs and vaccines are international supply chains. So vaccine nationalism helps nobody.

This is illustrated by the fact that the AZ factory in the Netherlands whose output to Britain the EU is threatening to block depends on supplies from a UK company based in Yorkshire.

I welcome the statement by the Prime Minister last week, that Britain will continue to work with our European friends - and expect them to stand by their commitment not to place restrictions on vaccine exports.

  • The EU should stand by the commitment President Von der Leyen made to the Prime Minister earlier this year when she said the EU would not block exports of the vaccine if companies are fulfilling contracts.
     
  • The recovery from Covid relies on international collaboration. We are all dependent on global supply chains and putting in place restrictions endangers the global efforts to fight the virus. 
     
  • While Britain remains confident in our supply chains, I hope our European friends will stand by their word by not imposing restrictions on the export of vaccines which will help the whole world defeat this terrible virus.

Music to relax on Monday evening: Horst Jankowski & Orchestra "A Walk In the Black Forest"

Fixing Britain's Asylum system

Writing in the Sun, Home Secretary Priti Patel has set out her commitment to fix our asylum system, tackling the abhorrent practice of people smuggling and  the criminal gangs who carry it out.

  • We are proud of Britain’s record in protecting vulnerable people fleeing oppression, prosecution, or tyranny, but our asylum system is broken and open to abuse. 
     
  • The government's New Plan for Immigration will be fair but firm, driven by a singular principle that access to our asylum system should be based according to need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers, and we will put a stop to the repeated and meritless claims that have blighted the system. 
     
  • But Britain will also continue to uphold our moral obligations and welcome people most in need through safe and legal routes, granting those who come legally indefinite leave to remain so they can rebuild their lives in the U.K.

Quote of the day 22nd March 2021

 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

On national flags ...

Whether they view them positively or negatively, you certainly cannot say that nobody cares about national flags.

Yesterday afternoon I tweeted a reply to a Labour friend  - I do have some - suggesting in moderate language that Britain's national flag should not be the property of extremists like the NF and BNP and that rest of us are entitled to use it. There was nothing in the post which I expected to be controversial. The  authors of a recent report to Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, suggesting that Labour should not be afraid of presenting itself as a patriotic party would have agreed.

It was a lot more contentious than I expected. In the following 34 hours my tweet had 236 likes, nine retweets and 69 replies which ranged from strong agreement to abuse. That's a lot for me on Twitter. The Labour friend I was replying to has had nearly four thousand retweets and fifteen thousand likes for his original tweet. He commented 

"Well, this kind of blew up. I really wasn’t expecting it to get that much attention." 

Ironically one of the people who made a response to me which was very negative about people who display the Union Flag was at the time himself displaying it in his twitter name. (He removed it when the inconsistency was pointed out.)

I try very hard not to be too quick to block or mute people but life is too short to waste it engaging with the kind of person who is convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is a xenophobe or an extremist. I think I've blocked or muted more people on twitter this weekend than in the previous two years (though still well inside single figures.) 

I think the lesson is that when you touch matters of national identity you should, to borrow a phrase, tread softly for you tread on people's dreams.

Supporting Britain's High Streets

This weekend the Communities Secretary announced a comprehensive package of measures that will support the safe and successful reopening of our high streets and seaside resorts - giving local economies a vital kickstart ahead of a great summer.

  • As we all look forward to life returning to normal over the coming months, we need to support our treasured high streets and seaside resorts, so they are ready to welcome customers and tourists ahead of a great summer.
     
  • That is why the government is introducing a suite of measures, which builds on the support we have already delivered to help the retail and hospitality sector, including:

    • The new £56 million Welcome Back Fund will give councils the funding they need to boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stalls, with part of the funding specifically allocated for coastal areas across England.
       
    • Providing an initial 70 councils with targeted, hands-on support from our High Streets Task Force, an elite team of high street experts who will advise them on how to adapt to changing consumer demands, so they can continue to thrive in the years ahead.
       
    • Giving businesses such as pubs and restaurants the flexibility to set up marquees and extra outdoor seating, as well as introducing a series of fairer parking measures that will encourage people to return to high streets and town centres.
       
  • High streets are the beating heart of our communities, and as restrictions ease, we are determined to see them once again become thriving spaces as we deliver on our commitment to level up in building Britain back better.

Remember, it is census day today ...


(Credit/blame for the humour above to the Rod Liddle column in today's Sunday Times)

The easiest way to complete the census is online at www.census.gov.uk, but you can also call 0800 141 2021 for other options.

Sunday music spot: Ave verum corpus (Byrd)

Quote of the day 21st March 202`


 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Saturday music spot: Vivaldi's Mandolin Concerto in C Major RV425

Project Gigabit: Connecting Britain

Yesterday the government announced a new £5 billion Project Gigabit that will see more than one million hard to reach homes and businesses benefit from lightning fast broadband - helping us deliver on our manifesto promise to level up the entire country as we build back better. 

  • Now more than ever, as millions of us rely on the internet to work, shop and stay in touch with loved ones, we are determined to unlock the opportunity that fast broadband can provide to live and work more flexibly. 
     
  • While the UK is on track for one of the fastest rollouts of gigabit broadband in Europe, our £5 billion Project Gigabit will prioritise remote and rural areas which historically experience slower connections, with 1 million homes and businesses benefitting, and the first phase will begin next year in places like Cumbria, Hartlepool and Darlington. 
     
  • The government is also making £110 million available to connect public sector buildings such as GP surgeries, schools and libraries in hard to reach areas, as well as investing £210 million in our Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme, which helps cover the installation costs of bringing gigabit connectivity to homes and businesses in rural areas. 
     
  • In plugging in and powering up every corner of the UK, we can help accelerate our recovery from the pandemic and level up the country, creating jobs and spreading wealth across Britain as we build back better.

Full disclosure: this information in this post comes from a briefing from the Conservative party which I would have agreed with and shared whether I had any personal interest or not. 

However, so that there can be no doubt that I am being open and transparent  about my own interests in the matter, I am employed by Openreach and am a manager in the part of the company which manages the rollout of FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) high speed broadband. 

The views in this post do not necessarily represent those of Openreach or BT.)