Tuesday, August 31, 2021

COVID-19 update

Over the weekend the Health Secretary provided an update on our fight against COVID-19, outlining the work the government and NHS are doing to ensure the success of the vaccine rollout continues and that Britain's economy remains open for business. 

  • The success of the UK vaccine rollout has allowed us to reopen our economy and return to life as we know it, but we must all maintain our efforts fighting the virus to ensure that this continues.
  • That is why the Health Secretary has outlined the steps being taken to ensure that we remain ahead of COVID-19, including offering the vaccination to 16 and 17 year olds and preparing to rollout the vaccine those aged 12 to 15 – pending final advice from the JCVI - in line with other countries like France, Germany and Italy.
  • By continuing to get jabs into the arms of our young people, we are building our wall of defence against the virus and ensuring we can return schools and colleges to normal.

Quote of the day 31st August 2021


Monday, August 30, 2021

Never give an order you know won't be obeyed ...

I welcome the decree by the PRC government to limit the time teenagers in China can spend on online games to three hours a week, at sp[ecified times on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening.

But not for the reasons the people who imposed the policy would have had in mind.

I welcome this because it brings forward the day when the Chinese Communist Party no longer monopolise government in that country.

If they can make this policy stick - which I very much doubt - they will have instilled in a lot of tech-savvy young Chinese a resentment of the over-mighty state.

More likely they will find they are teaching those young people how to disobey.

In the long run neither bodes well for the regime.

Consultation on plans to crackdown on single-use plastic items

The government has announced plans to consult on banning single-use plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups. This builds on our work to tackle plastic pollution as we build back greener.  

  • Plastic pollution damages our environment, harms our wildlife, and litters our landscape, so it is right that we put in place measures that drastically cut down the amount of plastic we leave behind. 
  • That is why the government plan to  ramping up efforts to tackle plastic pollution by launching a new consultation – beginning in the Autumn - on banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups and introducing sustainable alternatives.
  • These plans build on existing work banning plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and will help to stamp out the unnecessary use of plastics that wreak havoc on our natural environment.

Quote of the day 30th August 2021

 "We should not have published the article,"

"We apologise to Deborah and Ben Stokes. We have agreed to pay them damages and their legal costs."

(Statement from the Sun Newspaper announcing an apology a d damages to cricketer Ben Stokes and his family,)

On the Afghanistan evacuation

 The Prime Minister has confirmed that the final British flights carrying military and diplomatic personnel have now left Afghanistan, bringing an end to Operation PITTING and our military operations in the country after 20 years.

  • The airlift of evacuees from Kabul was an enormous military operation. British armed forces, diplomats and civil servants worked tirelessly to evacuate as many vulnerable people from Afghanistan as possible.
  • Over 15,000 people on 165 flights have been evacuated since 14 August, including more than 2,200 children, and the UK will continue to assist those who remain in Afghanistan for the months to come. 
  • We will now work to integrate into our society and  make welcome those who helped British forces in Afghanistan and for whom that country is no longer safe.

Bank Holiday Monday music nostalgia spot: The Seekers "A World of our Own"

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday music spot: Gloria in Excelsis Deo by Antonio Vivaldi (1st movement)

Quote of the day 29th August 2021

"At 21.25hrs tonight the last RAF plane left Kabul Airport ending the evacuation of military and Afghan personnel.  In 14 days over 15,000 people have been airlifted on over 165 flights. We should be proud of our armed forces, welcoming to those coming for a better life, and sad for those left behind. Our obligation to them does not end with our leaving. There will be many lessons to learn but over the last 20 years there are also endless examples of amazing achievements, bravery and friendships formed. We will not forget those who lost their lives."

(Rt Hon Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, last night on Twitter).

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Andrew Neil on Scotland's SNP-Green coalition

There is a good piece in the Mail by Andrew Neil on the new SNP-Green coalition government in Scotland which can be read in full here.

Saturday music spot: The Seekers sing "Georgy Girl" (1967)

Quotes of the day 28th August 2021

"There are no circumstances, no developments, however cataclysmic or earth-shattering, that could persuade the true believers of the nationalist movement to admit that the Union might be worth preserving." 

"Forbes" (Scottish government Finance minister Kate Forbes) "and her party insist that a massive structural deficit is merely another argument in favour of independence. Had the GERS figures shown a surplus instead of a deficit, you can be sure that she would have trumpeted the figures as – you guessed it – another argument in favour of independence. 

In other words, nationalism is not a rational political philosophy; it is an emotional conviction adhered to by the faithful. And faith, as we know, is belief without the need for evidence. "

"Last year, Scots enjoyed public spending levels that outstripped tax revenue by more than £36 billion.  That figure has more than doubled since the previous year’s deficit of £15 billion, largely because of measures to support the economy during the Covid pandemic. 

Essentially, this means that a newly independent Scotland would have to take two immediate actions: the first would be to implement colossal, eye-watering cuts to public services, something few independence-supporting Scots would have endorsed in any referendum campaign.

The second would be to immediately abandon, for the foreseeable future, any ambition to join the European Union, given that our structural deficit would not come within sniffing distance of the Union’s limit of three percent as a proportion of GDP. This probably wouldn’t cause many nationalists to lose any sleep; their party’s devotion to the European project was never more than a convenient weapon in the battle for hearts and minds following the EU referendum in 2016. Still, there are a significant number of Remain-voting Scots who would only be persuaded to support independence if it meant joining the EU. The GERS figures kick that prospect into the very far distance."

(Extracts from "As the economic facts change, the SNP simply recalibrates the truth," an article by former Labour minister Tom Harris on the CAPX site which you can read in full here.)

Friday, August 27, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Steeleye Span sing "All Around My Hat"

Two million not out

This afternoon this blog recorded its two millionth hit. That's based on the total number of pageviews since the traffic counters went live about ten years ago.

The blog has been running since early 2005 in which time I have put up 13,079 posts and readers have made 8688 comments. 

Thank you to all the people who have visited this blog in that time. I hope you found it interesting.

Vaccination facts and myths

There have been a great many statements made about COVID-19 vaccines on social media over the past year or so, some expressing valid concerns, sadly many others expressing dangerous myths.

Some of the myths are due to misunderstandings - sadly some others are based on deliberate fraud or fakes although not everyone who shares them is a liar or aware of the fact that they are circulating lies.

Some social media companies have done a better job than others in working against dangerous "fake news" on their platforms and there has been some great work done in myth-busting about vaccines by some of the "factchecker" services like "Full Fact."

I have already responded to one group of myths in my "quote of the day" this morning.

The truth is that

The approved COVID-19 vaccines have had their clinical trials and are not experimental.

During those clinical trials the vaccines were rigorously tested on thousands of volunteers in accordance with the "Nuremberg Code."

The rollout of the vaccines following MHRA approval is not an experiment and the Nuremberg code for medical experiments does not apply to that rollout

If you want to lean more about vaccines and their effectiveness and safety the best place to go is to official websites such as the Government COVID-19 information page, the NHS website COVID page, or the JCVI page.

Or if you are seeking advice about whether a particular vaccination is right for you or a member of your family, talk to your GP or an appropriately qualified medical professional.

Revised postscript

There are immensely strong opinions on this subject on both sides. Here is an example of someone who feels very strongly that everyone except those with a genuine and specific reason should have the vaccine - I have seen and been sent equally strongly held (and also expletive laden) comments in the other direction.

I completely agree with the author of the link immediately above except that I don't think insulting those who don't share her (and my) opinions will persuade them to take the approved vaccines.

And the strength of the scientific evidence is not proportionate to the number of expletives deployed by either side.

Edward Jenner's vaccination against Smallpox is estimated to have saved three hundred million lives. The tests which he did to establish that it is safe were ground-breaking for the century he was living in, but anyone who released a vaccine on that level of testing today would be prosecuted, not because Jenner did anything wrong but because the science of testing the safety of medical treatments of which he was a pionier has moved on so much in two centuries. The approved COVID vaccines have been far more rigorously tested than his smallpox vaccine and we understand how they work much better.

In that sense the anti-vaxxers who opposed Jenner were on far stronger ground than those who oppose today's vaccination programmes - yet if people had listened to them hundreds of millions of people whose lives were saved by Jenner's vaccine and its successors would have died and probably more than a billion people now alive would never have been born.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the successes of vaccination programmes massively outweigh the failures. We are not living in a risk-free world but the overwhelming weight of evidence including the result of rigorous clinical trials in which tens of thousands of volunteers took part support the view that for the vast majority of adults the reduction in risk to health from COVID-19 which the approved vaccines deliver is much greater than the very small minimal risks which the vaccines themselves pose. 

I believe that encouraging people to take the vaccine is quite literally a matter of life or death - the vaccination programme is estimated to have saved over a hundred thousand lives in Britain alone.

As long as I continue to believe that - and I have not seen an iota of convincing evidence in the other direction - I will continue to encourage people to take the vaccine and to discuss the matter with their GP or an appropriately qualified medical professional if they have any doubt about the suitability of the vaccine for themselves of their family.

Building back greener - restoring peatlands

The government has today announced over £16 million to help restore 35,000 hectares of peatland in England, to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity.

  • Peatlands play a vital role in trapping carbon and providing a wealth of benefits for our environment, including better water quality and natural flood management.
  • That is why the government has announced the first round of £16 million in investment of over £50 million for peat restoration, building on the Conservative pledge to restore 35,000 hectares by the end of this Parliament through our Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme.
  • This project marks a big step towards achieving our goal to reverse the decline in England’s peatlands and will contribute to our Nature Recovery Network as we build back greener.

Quote of the day 27th August 2021

 Dr Julian Sheather of the British Medical Association, commenting on attempts to suggest that the "Nuremberg Code" on medical experiments is somehow relevant to the rollout of approved COVID-19 vaccines which have had that approval following their clinical trial. 

(I would add that obviously the Nuremberg code did apply, and was followed, during the clinical trials themselves during which the vaccines were only administered to people who had freely volunteered to receive what was then, but is no longer, an experimental treatment,)

The attack on Kabul Airport

 The following statement has been released about the suicided bombing on Kabul airport:

Since the UK and American intelligence agencies obviously had some intelligence that this was coming - they were warning people to stay away from the airport several hours before the attack - I hope that means that they have some idea who was responsible for this evil terrorist attack and that every effort will be made to bring those who sent, guided, armed and supplied the suicide bombers to justice.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Music to relax after campaigning: Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in D minor K.1

Back to School

Today a back to school campaign has been launched, giving students and staff the confidence to look forward to a more normal school year as we build back better.

  • The return to school is a huge moment for students and staff - and we all want to make sure their full focus is on learning, enrichment and recovery.
  • That is why the UK government has launched a "back to school" campaign to reassure families about the protective measures in educational settings – including testing, ventilation and extra hygiene precautions – and we will be providing leaflets, social and digital advertising in the coming days.
  • Advice from the JCVI is awaited on a potential booster programme for jabs, as well as vaccinations for 12 year olds, and will await this advice before making a final decision.
  • Maintaining these measures will ensure students can enjoy a more normal academic year – so they can focus on catching up on lost learning and getting the world class education they deserve, as we learn to live with COVID.

Afghan evacuation continues

Efforts continue to evacuate UK nationals, Afghan citizens who helped our armed forces, and their families. Although what is happening in that country is a tragedy, we owe thanks and should give credit to the military personnel and officials who are in the country, risking their own lives to try to get our people and those to whom we owe a debt out while protecting us against any hostile agents who DAESH or other terrorist groups may try to slip in among the genuine refugees.

  • It is vital that the international community comes together to agree a joint approach to respond to the situation in Afghanistan going forward, but the immediate priority remains the safe evacuation of British citizens and Afghan staff. 
  • More than 12,000 people have been evacuated and more than 7,300 eligible local staff and their families have been welcomed to the UK as part of the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy since 14 August.
  • However, the security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile and the UK intelligence services are saying that there is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack. The travel advice has changed and is advising against travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. People in the area of the airport are now being advised to move away to a safe location and await further advice.

T levels - more support announced

Yesterday the government announced £50 million for T Levels across England to improve and expand teaching space – helping students fulfil their potential and progress into well paid jobs.

  • T Levels provide young people with high-quality technical equivalents to A Levels that are recognised by leading employers, as well as the skills needed to succeed. 
  • That is why the Conservative government is investing £50 million in 65 projects across England, building on the £133 million provided in 2020 and 2021, giving thousands of students industry quality equipment and high tech classrooms to support their training. 
  • By supporting our young people to develop skills and fulfil their potential we are levelling up opportunity across the country as we build back better.

Quote of the day 26th August 2021

 "Everyone is entitled to a holiday"

(Labour Councillor Anne Burns at yesterday's special meeting of Cumbria County Council at which she argued that it had been disgraceful to call a meeting of the council in August because everyone is entitled to go on holiday this month.

It is not clear whether Cllr Burns has shared this opinion with Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy or leader Sir Keir Starmer in the light of Lisa Nandy's comments last week.)

Polls are now open in the Corby & Hayton by-election

There is a by-election today (26th August 2021) for a county councillor to represent the Corby & Hayton division of Cumbria County Council and polls are now open. The Conservative candidate is Tim Cheetham. If you are a resident of the division you can vote up to 10pm this evening

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Yesterday's online G7 call on Afghanistan

 Yesterday the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the G7 on the situation in Afghanistan.

  • Britain's first priority in Afghanistan remains the safe evacuation of British citizens and Afghan staff – but it is also vital that the international community comes together to agree a joint approach to the urgent situation and support the Afghan people living there. 
  • That is why yesterday the G7, under the Presidency of the UK, agreed a joint approach to deal with the evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have partnered with us over the past 20 years  - as well as a roadmap for engagement with any future Afghan government and a commitment to support the safety and security of the people who live there. 
  • Together with our partners and allies, Britain will continue to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and protect the gains made over the last two decades.

Midweek music spot: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

A political quiz question

 Which political party has in the last week done both the following things?

1) Demanded that one of their opponents resign for going on holiday in August, and

2) Criticised their opponents for calling a meeting in August on the grounds that everyone is entitled to take a holiday in August?

Answer: the Labour party

They called last week for the resignation of the Foreign secretary because he was on holiday abroad at the time of the fall of the Afghan government and the evacuation crisis,

But today at Cumbria County Council they criticised the Conservatives for calling a meeting in August on the basis that "everyone is entitled to a holiday" in August and even suggested that it was disgraceful to call a meeting in that month because everyone knows, apparently, that the leader of the council goes away for a month at this time of year.

Special meeting of Cumbria County Council votes against Judicial Review on Local Government Reform

 A special meeting of Cumbria County Council took place this morning (Wednesday 25th August 2021 at 10am) at Carlisle racecourse, at the request of five members of the Conservative group, of whom I was one.

This was to consider the following motion which was be proposed by Dr Stephen Haraldsen:

“This council believes that launching a legal challenge against the proposed Local Government Reform in Cumbria will be a waste of public money and time and that the council should instead focus on serving local residents by working constructively with all partners to ensure a smooth transition to the new unitary authorities.”

The motion was PASSED by 30 votes to 18 with eight abstentions. 

Essentially Conservative councillors voted for the motion, the Labour group voted against, and the Lib/Dems abstained (depspite the fact that the  first half of the motion was an almost exact quote from Lib/Dem MP Tim Farron and the second half was an almost exact quote from the Lib/Dem leader on the county council, Cllr Thornton.)

Early press coverage has paid more attention than was merited to some far from validated figures bandied around about the cost of the meeting and about the potential cost of a judicial review. 

In my opinion the potential legal costs if a judicial review was pursued to a full hearing and costs were awarded against the council the cost to the taxpayer could easily be in six figures which is two orders of magnitude more than the cost of today's meeting - but the most important cost of such a judicial review would be the uncertainty and delay if would cause, the consequent impact on morale, and the officer and member time which would be taken away from setting up the new councils and from dealing with the actual work of the council on issues like sorting out the A595, school transport, and protecting people from COVID-19.

Nobody is above the law

My "Quote of the day" this morning was a phrase which was coined about over-mighty Kings, governments and rulers and repeated by Lord Denning in the last century as a warning aginst over-mighty trade unions.

Both of those warnings still apply but now there is a third group of people to whom it also applies - protesters who think the cause for which they are demonstrating or protesting puts them above the law.

Animal Rights protesters have been in this space for some decades, and ironically their own actions have sometimes caused huge damage to Britain's natural environment and animal population, as when animal rights protesters broke into fur farms and released mink into the wild - introducing an alien, vicious and highly dangerous carnivore into the ecosystem which wreaked massive damage on native animal species whose natural defences were not attuned to this threat.

However, the most common examples at the moment are anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protesters (and those opposed to both who don't appear to see the contradiction that without the vaccination programme we'd be facing almost permanent lockdowns,) anti-globalisation protesters, and in particular extreme environmentalist groups such as Extinction Rebellion,

I believe that the balance of evidence and the precautionary principle suggest substantial grounds to think that human activity is having significant negative effects on the environment and that we need to take action both to reduce these effects and to increase our resilience in dealing with climate change. One of my reasons for not approving of Extinction Rebellion is that their extremism risks discrediting the arguments for action on the environment,

There is a powerful article on the subject,

"Will London put up with protesters who think they are above the law?"

by Daniel Johnson, which you can read on "The Article" website here.

Quote of the day 25th August 3032


When these words were first used, the author Thomas Fuller and others such as the great Judge Sir Edwin Coke were warning Kings and governments that they were not above the law.

Lord Denning, who famously quoted it as above was giving the same reminder to over-mighty trade unions.

But it applies to everyone - from governments and councils to those who protest against them, a free and democratic society cannot allow anyone to be above the law.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Vaccination progress - another target hit.

This week the  target was achieved to offer the COVID-19 vaccination to all 16 and 17 year olds in England, strengthening our wall of defence against this disease. 

  • The success of Britain's vaccine programme has saved over 95,000 lives and prevented over 80,000 hospitalisations, but to maintain this success it is vital that young people also get vaccinated. 
  • Following an unprecedented vaccine drive, we have now hit our target of offering everyone in that age group a vaccination – and are asking young people to come forward and share their experiences of the diseases to encourage others to get the jab.
  • Separately, we are still awaiting advice from the JCVI about the vaccine booster programme, but we are confident that the programme will begin in September.
  • By maintaining the success of our vaccine rollout, we can continue returning schools and colleges to normal, building back better and allowing people to go about their daily lives.

Next year's vaccine supply

The UK government has agreed a contract for 35 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which will help keep our nation safe from the threat of COVID-19 for years to come.

  • While the UK’s phenomenal vaccination programme continues to save lives, we are also putting plans in place to protect the country for the future too – whether that’s from the virus as we know it or new variants. 
  • That is why the UK authorities have reached an agreement with Pfizer to purchase 35 million more vaccine doses which will be delivered from the second half of next year, as part of our plans to keep the nation safe from the threat of COVID-19 and support any future booster programmes. 
  • Purchasing new doses well in advance and making the UK a global centre of excellence for vaccine research will ensure we can maintain our life-saving wall of defence from COVID-19 for years to come.

Quote of the day 24th August 2021

Tacitus was referring to the Roman Empire.

In our own era, both the advocates of "Liberal intervention" and those who advocate a more isolationist policy need to beware of the danger that their policy may have this effect.

Tacitus' warning should not be used just as a slogan to throw at people we may disagree with - just as the aftermath of the Iraq invasion shows how badly a well-meant military action can go wrong, so Syria shows what can happen when the West declines to intervene and the present situation in Afghanistan shows how a badly managed withdrawal from an overseas intervention can make matters worse.

Monday, August 23, 2021


The Prime Minister spoke to President Biden and other world leaders yesterday, ahead of chairing a G7 Leader’s meeting on Afghanistan today where he will urge fellow world leaders to match the UK’s commitments on aid and resettlement and agree a unified response to the crisis.

  • Britain's first priority in Afghanistan remains the safe evacuation of British citizens and Afghan staff – but it is also vital that the international community comes together to agree a joint approach to the crisis and support the Afghan people.
  • That is why the Prime Minister has called an emergency meeting of the G7, where he will urge fellow world leaders to coordinate their response to the crisis, reaffirm their commitment to the Afghan people, and match the UK’s commitments to support those in need – as well as discussing ongoing collaboration on evacuation efforts at Kabul airport.
  • Together with our partners and allies, Britain will continue to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and protect the gains made over the last two decades. 

The above is the "official line" - which I would not be repeating if I thought any of it was untrue. Obviously the government has to tone down the rhetoric against the Taleban at the moment and cannot publicly criticise the Biden administration while we are trying to get as many of our citizens and vulnerable people in Afghanistan to whom we owe a debt out of the country as possible.

Since I am not a member of the government I can write more frankly. I don't believe for one nanosecond the assurances the Taleban are giving that they have changed. They are clever enough to realise that letting at least some of the people who have no place in their vision of Afghanistan escape makes them look a lot better than killing all those people. But anyone in that country who has worked with the West, anyone who has helped to educate women, members of ethnic minorities and anyone else who does not conform will be in mortal danger once the last Western troops have gone.

There was an argument for the West as a whole (not Britain on our own) staying in Afghanistan: there was an argument for a properly planned and staged withdrawal which got the vulnerable people out before the troops and did not pull the rug out from under the Afghan armed forces. There was no argument for the disastrous shambles we have seen. Trump's deal with the Taleban was flawed: Biden's catastrophically incompetent execution of it was worse.  Between them they left the UK government with no good options. 

The collapse of the former Afghan government is not the end of the story and does not mean either that there has been a "military solution" or that there will be peace, even in the sense of that word used by Tacitus in today's "quote of the day." 

This is not a country on which even the greatest of great powers can permanently impose their will if the inhabitants do not wish it - and nor can any one faction within Afghanistan easily impose their will on the others. 

When Britain was the most powerful country in the world we once sent an expeditionary force of 30,000 men into Afghanistan, of whom only a single man returned. The Russians tried to conquer Afghanistan in the eighties and failed - and if Putin tries to persuade the Taleban that he is their friend in the hope that they will have forgotten this, I suspect he will find they have not.

The Western presence in Afghanistan over the last 20 years was only possible because a substantial part of the country actually did want us there, though whether they ever will again is now open to doubt: it was difficult and costly because another substantial part of the country did not want us.

There will be more distressing scenes outside Kabul airport as the final withdrawal takes place. Within a few months I suspect we will see the start of a low level, or possibly even high level civil war in Afghanistan which will kill far more people than died by violence in the country over the last few years. 

Britain should do what we can to help but the sad reality is that there is not a great deal we can do about it.

Making social housing greener - and saving tenants' money!

The government has announced today a £160 million investment to improve the energy efficiency of social housing, making tens of thousands of homes warmer and cheaper to heat as we build back greener. 

  • We all have a role to play in preventing climate change, but improving the energy efficiency of homes remains unaffordable for many of the poorest in our country. 
  • That is why the government is investing £160 million as part of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, upgrading the windows, heating systems and doors of 38,000 of the UK’s least energy-efficient social rented homes - taking them from EPC ratings of D or below to a minimum C rating. 
  • This initiative will save tenants £170 a year on energy bills and make their homes warmer, whilst reducing the UK’s carbon emissions.  

Special meeting of Cumbria County Council called for Wednesday 25th August

A special meeting of Cumbria County Council has been called on Wednesday at 10am at Carlisle racecourse, at the request of five members of the Conservative group.

This will be to consider the following motion which will be proposed by Dr Stephen Haraldsen:

“This council believes that launching a legal challenge against the proposed Local Government Reform in Cumbria will be a waste of public money and time and that the council should instead focus on serving local residents by working constructively with all partners to ensure a smooth transition to the new unitary authorities.”

To avoid any risk of confusion, this is a completely separate request from the one we had previously made in July for a special meeting to discuss an entirely different reason: we wanted to convene the DC&R committee to take a view on the West Cumbria Mining planning application prior to the planning inquiry.

I will explain in a subsequent post why we were unable to pursue that option: essentially due to an oversight in Cumbria County Council's constitution there is no way for councillors to convene a meeting of the planning committee. We had expected that if the actual full council voted to ask for one to be set up that such a request would be honoured but it was made clear to us that this would not be the case. This indicates serious flaws in the democractic structure of the County Council which we will attempt to address, but that is an argument for another occasion.

For this week the issue is try to prevent a legal challenge which can only increase uncertainty and loss of morale among council employees, as well as wasting taxpayers' money.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2021


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Comment moderation will remain on for the moment

I turned comment moderation on three weeks ago and said I would review it today.

Given the nature of some of the trolling comments which I have recieved I will leave it on for the moment and review in December.


A Sunday reflection

This is the candle I lit at St James Church after this morning's service. I prayed for the people of Afghanistan and the people of Haiti.

Antibody testing

The government has launched a new national antibody testing programme today, through the UK Health Security Agency, to strengthen our understanding of COVID-19 as we return to normal life.

  • Britain's historic vaccination programme continues to provide a wall of defence and has prevented over 100,000 deaths in England alone, allowing us to cautiously return to normal life.
  • That is why the government and the NHS have launched new opt-in antibody testing when booking a PCR test – to monitor vital data tracking the ongoing impact of our world leading vaccination programme on the immune response to different variants of Covid-19 – ensuring that we are able to prevent infections. 
  • This innovative programme will further improve our understanding of the effectiveness of our vaccines and help target treatments for Covid-19 in future.

Sunday music spot: J.S. Bach's motet BWV "Jesu, meine Freude"

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will convene G7 leaders on Tuesday for urgent talks on the situation in Afghanistan.

  • The UK is playing a leading role in bringing the international community together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis, and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister will convene talks with G7 leaders this week. Our priorities remain addressing the situation on the ground, supporting humanitarian workers, and securing the progress on development and civil society that has been made. 
  • The PM has also spoken again with the UN Secretary-General to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, following the Foreign Secretary’s meeting with NATO Allies on Friday, to co-ordinate a unified approach to counter-terrorism and humanitarian aid. 
  • The UK is determined to continue working together to address the situation in Afghanistan - to safeguard stability and in particular to protect the rights of women, girls, and ethnic minorities.

Quote of the day 22nd August 2021 - Footprints in the sand


Friday, August 20, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Bach's "Air On The G String" from Suite no 3 in D

Chris Whitty on vaccination

The government's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty @CMO_England, tweeted today

"The great majority of adults have been vaccinated.

Four weeks working on a COVID ward makes stark the reality that the majority of our hospitalised COVID patients are unvaccinated and regret delaying. Some are very sick including young adults.

Please don't delay your vaccine."

Quote of the day 20th August 2021


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Latest data on the effects of the vaccination programme

Public Health England (PHE) has published its latest weekly COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report.

The latest estimates suggest that the vaccination programme has prevented over 82,100 hospitalisations in those aged 65 and over in England. Further data suggests that it has also prevented 95,200 deaths and 23,957,000 COVID-19 infections more widely.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said:

"The UK’s phenomenal vaccination programme has made a life-changing difference to tens of millions of people across the country, and we’re quickly closing in on 100,000 lives being saved in England alone.

With 82,100 hospitalisations prevented in over-65s and almost 24 million infections prevented across England, the vaccines are continuing to keep all of us safe. It’s also hugely encouraging to see over 62,000 pregnant women taking up the offer and ensuring they and their babies are protected from this dangerous disease.

The vaccines are free and available at hundreds of locations around the UK – please get your jabs to secure this protection for yourself and your loved ones and help us reclaim our lost freedoms."

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at PHE, said:

"It is encouraging that thousands of women have now benefitted from the vital protection of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, many more may remain unvaccinated and we urge them to take up the offer.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe for both you and your unborn baby and they are the best way to protect against COVID-19 related complications in pregnancy which can be serious, especially in your third trimester.

If you are pregnant and haven’t yet had your vaccine, make sure to book it in. It’s also vital that health professionals continue to talk to women about the benefits of vaccination and help to answer any questions they may have."

Dr Pat O’Brien, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and Vice President at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

"We want to encourage all pregnant women to come forward for their vaccinations. It is very positive to see that the number of pregnant women who have been vaccinated is rising, but many more remain unvaccinated.

There is growing evidence that the vaccine is safe in pregnancy, and we want to reassure women that there is no link to an increased risk of harm to the baby, such as miscarriage, premature birth, growth problems, or stillbirth when having the vaccine.

We are seeing more unvaccinated pregnant women become seriously ill from COVID-19, and an increased number of women admitted to hospital and intensive care. The vaccine will help to protect both the mother and their baby from the potential effects of COVID-19."

Jessica Read, Deputy Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said:

"Mums-to-be naturally want what’s best for their baby and we know that many have been worried about getting vaccinated, but we also know that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women – with hundreds of thousands of expectant mums around the world having had the vaccine with no ill effects.

Pregnant women who catch COVID-19 are more at risk of becoming seriously ill, which can cause problems in pregnancy, so it’s vital they take up the ongoing NHS offer of a COVID-19 vaccination – protecting themselves and their babies from the virus."

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said:

"It’s positive to see more pregnant women are getting vaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect you and your baby against COVID-19. It really is that simple.

Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women worldwide have been vaccinated, safely and effectively protecting themselves against COVID-19 and dramatically reducing their risk of serious illness or harm to their baby.

If you have questions please talk to your midwife, obstetrician or GP. Get the answers you need and get the jab."

Northern Centre for Cancer Care opened in Carlisle

Delighted to see that today Health Secretary Sajid Javid opened a new specialist cancer care unit in Carlisle, which is the first of the 48 new hospital projects the Conservatives plan to build by 2030.

The Northern Centre for Cancer Care in Carlise is a state-of-the-art new facility which will transform cancer care in Cumbria and Northern England.

David Hermon on Anti-Semitism

Following on from the row over the expulsion of the film-director Ken Loach from the Labour party, there is a good piece on The Article site by David Hermon about those people who regard themselves and progressive and anti-racist but have a blind spot where the ethnic minority suffering racism is the Jewish community.

You can read it here.

Quote of the day 19th August 2021


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Midweek music spot: Canon in D (Pachelbel's Canon) arranged for Cello & Piano

Firearms safety

The government has asked police to review their current firearms processes and whether they need to revisit any existing licenses in light of the tragic attack in Plymouth to ensure everything is being done to keep people safe.

  • Incidents such as Thursday’s horrific events in Plymouth are thankfully rare, but, as I remember only too well from the tragic series of shooting in West Cumbria in 2010, their impact is profound, not only on those directly affected but on the community as a whole. The government must constantly assess what sensible and proportionate steps can be taken to help prevent such terrible loss of life happening again.
  • We are bringing forward new guidance to improve how people applying for a firearms licence are assessed in future, including social media checks.
  • But today, as a matter of urgency, we are asking the police to review their practices and whether any existing licences need to be looked at again. This will help reassure people that all necessary checks have been made to keep them safe.

Quote of the day 18th August 2021

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Tuesday music spot: "Summer Holiday" sung by Cliff Richard (film theme)

Clean energy from Hydrogen

The government has launched the UK’s first-ever Hydrogen Strategy, setting out plans to invest in clean energy technology and create more than 9,000 jobs across the UK by 2030 while keeping costs low for consumers.

  • Hydrogen energy offers a homegrown, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels which could provide a third of the UK’s energy in the future, making it a critical part of our plans to reach net zero by 2050. 
  • That is why the government announced today the UK’s first-every Hydrogen Strategy, with plans to invest more than £340 million into the clean energy technology and slash the emissions of industries like transport, manufacturing and construction while keeping energy costs as low as possible.
  • These plans will kickstart a hydrogen revolution, potentially creating hundreds of thousands of high-quality green jobs as we move away from fossil fuels and we build back greener.

Also today on using Hydrogen for clean power, the government has announced the winners of a competition to deliver hydrogen transport trials in the Tees Valley as part of our commitment to delivering cleaner, greener and more efficient transport across the UK.

  • Innovative new technologies like hydrogen are critical to decarbonising transport and creating new jobs in our local areas as we continue to progress towards our net zero ambitions. 
  • That is why the government has been holding a £2.5 million R&D competition in the Tees Valley, of which the winners were announced today, that will lead to supermarkets, emergency services and delivery companies using hydrogen-powered transport to move goods and carry out local services. This will showcasing the  benefits from our rolling out the technology across the UK. 
  • These trials will spearhead the path to a greener future by developing the knowledge and expertise needed to roll hydrogen out as a fuel source across the UK while creating good-quality, well-paid, clean energy jobs in the process.

And a point for Cumbria - we'd have a better chance of bidding to host innovative trials like this if we, like Tees valley, had a Metro Mayor.

International co-ordination on Afghanistan

The Prime Minister has discussed the UK's proposals to host a virtual meeting of the G7 to coordinate an international response to the situation in Afghanistan with French President Emmanuel Macron when they spoke yesterday.

  • It is essential that the international community come together and take a unified approach on Afghanistan, both in terms of the future of the country and in working to prevent a humanitarian and refugee crisis. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister outlined the UK government's proposal to host a virtual meeting of G7 to coordinate an international response and emphasised the importance of working together on the long-term future of Afghanistan on a call with President Macron yesterday. 
  • The UK government is stepping up support to facilitate the departure of British nationals and Afghan staff as well as working with the UK's international partners to respond to the situation.

New arrangements for the double jabbed

Self-isolation requirements have ended for double-jabbed people and under-18s in England and Northern Ireland – as Britain continue to move from short term restrictions to the longer term protection supported by our world leading vaccine programme.

  • The success of our vaccine programme allows us to continue taking steps towards normal life.
  • That is why, from today, instead of quarantining for 10 days, those who are double vaccinated will be advised to take a PCR test if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. They are also advised to limit contact with others and wear a face covering in enclosed spaces.
  • The success of the vaccine programme and the heroic efforts of our NHS and key workers are allowing us all to continue cautious steps towards normal life.

Testing, testing

The government has significantly reduced the price of NHS travel testing packages, so that anyone travelling abroad can access high quality tests at a reasonable price.

  • We all understand that concerns about the cost of PCR testing can sometimes be a barrier to travel. 
  • That is why the Health Secretary has slashed the cost of day 2 and day 8 tests from NHS Test and Trace by a fifth – with single test packages being reduced from £88 to £68 and the price for two tests being lowered from £170 to £136. 
  • The government has also asked the Competition and Markets Authority to urgently review the private testing market and will continue to crack down on exploitative practices.

New restrictions in trade in shark products

The government has announced a new ban on the import and export of detached shark fins, and products containing them, helping to put a stop to this cruel practice as Britain continues to lead the world in ocean protection and conservation.

  • The cruel practice of shark finning is rightly banned in UK waters, but the trade continues, causing thousands of sharks – many of which are critically endangered – to die terrible deaths every year. 
  • That is why the government has announced a new ban on the import and export of shark fins and shark fin products like tinned shark fin soup, which will help to put a stop to the vile trade by removing demand for the products and send a clear message that the practice is unacceptable. 
  • Britain is a world leader on marine protection and animal welfare, and this unprecedented ban will mean that we are going further than any other country to stop shark finning and protect these magnificent creatures.