Wednesday, March 31, 2021
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!
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.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
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.
"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
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.
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
"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.
Sunday, March 28, 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.)
Saturday, March 27, 2021
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!
"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
"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.
Thursday, March 25, 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
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.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
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.
Monday, March 22, 2021
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 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.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
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.