Thursday, September 30, 2021

Good news on UK economic growth

GDP figures released this morning show that the UK economy grew by 5.5 per cent in the period April to June, up from the previous estimate of 4.8 per cent – showing that Britain's economy is recovering from the pandemic as we build back better.

  • As we move beyond the pandemic, one of the country's key priorities must be getting people back into work and helping businesses to thrive - and it is clear that the government's plan to do this is helping though of course it is business that really does the work of creating wealth. 
     
  • New figures released this morning show that Britain's economy grew by 5.5 per cent between April and June – beating market expectations – with the arts, entertainment, and recreational sectors growing by over 20 per cent. 
     
  • This will mean job security for millions of workers, more trade for businesses, and greater prosperity throughout the country.

Quote of the day 30th September 2021

"A parliamentary democracy requires an effective opposition. 

Judging by what I have seen in Brighton I am not holding my breath that we are going to get one any time soon."

(Ali Miraj sums up the Labour party's 2021 conference this week in an article called "Keir Starmer's Labour party isn't ready to oppose, let alone to govern" which you can read in full here.) 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

YouTube vs the Kremlin - refusal to publish anti-vax misinformation leads to ban on RT.

The Youtube platform has adopted a stricter policy of refusing to allow anti-vaccination misinformation and this has resulted in a row with the Kremlin.

Following the adoption of new guidelines the Russian state propaganda arm RT was suspended from the platform for a week after warnings over videos which were considered to be in breach of the platform's COVID-19 misinformation guidelines. RT was then deleted altogether after it registered a second channel to subvert the suspension. Needless to say the Kremlin was not happy.

YouTube also removed a number of channels on which it was falsely alleged "that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects" as part of its new policy on vaccine misinformation.

The company said its new approach to handling anti-vaccine videos includes tackling "content that falsely says that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility, or that substances in vaccines can track those who receive them".

YouTube had already banned the spreading of false information about the COVID-19 vaccines, and this ban is now being extended to cover others such as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

YouTube said it has removed more than 130,000 videos for violating its COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Earlier this year, the UK's vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the government was battling a tsunami of disinformation about vaccines, while the US surgeon general said health-related misinformation was "a serious public threat".

Last year, YouTube deleted David Icke's channel over his pandemic misinformation because he repeatedly posted videos supporting a scientifically impossible conspiracy theory tying COVID-19 to 5G mobile masts.

YouTube said there are "important exceptions" to its new guidelines, and will continue to allow personal testimonies relating to vaccines "so long as the video doesn't violate other Community Guidelines, or the channel doesn't show a pattern of promoting vaccine hesitancy".

Videos about vaccination policy and trials, and about historical successes and failures in vaccinations, are going to be allowed to remain on the site too.

It's a difficult issue reconciling freedom of speech with the need to prevent the spread of dangerous falsehoods which are a threat to people's lives. 

I don't believe anyone should be prosecuted for expressing an honest belief even if the government disagrees with it provided that opinion is not expressed in a way which amounts to incitement to criminal action, and subject to the right of anyone who has been the target of libel or slander to seek reasonable redress in the civil courts. But a platform should have the right to refuse to carry statements it considers dangerous falsehoods - just as I reserve the right not to publish comments I consider to be dangerous anti-vax misinformation.

As for Russia and RT, I am afraid they have form for deliberately poisoning the vaccination debate and spreading misinformation which I believe to be a deliberate attempt to harm countries they see as potential rivals or enemies. I do not believe there is any need for the peoples of Britain and the West and the people of Russia to be enemies and regret that the Russian regime finds it necessary to behave in this way.

Midweek music spot: The King's singers perform "Music for a while" by Thomas Purcell

Unlocking the power of gene editing

 The government has announced new plans to unlock the power of gene editing, seizing the opportunities of leaving the EU to help our farmers grow more resistant, nutritious and productive crops. 

  • Gene editing could help tackle some of the biggest challenges we faces – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss – and outside of the EU, we can now make the most of this opportunity.
     
  • The new plans announced today will make plant breeding more precise and efficient, helping farmers to grow crops that are more nutritious, resistant to pests and disease, and more beneficial to the environment.
     
  • This will help to support the production of healthier food while reducing impacts on the environment as we build back better and greener.

Quote of the day 29th September 2021

 "So, you're talking about an increase from a figure, but you don't know what the initial figure is?"

(Nick Ferrari, interviewing a senior member of the Labour shadow cabinet who called for an increase in the minimum wage but then had to admit that he couldn't remember what it is now - or give a clear idea that he knew exactly what it would be if he were in government.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

October meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee

The October meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will be held next Monday, 4th October 2021, at 10.30 am in Conference Room A/B, Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle, CA1 1RD.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda and supporting documents can be found on the county council website at

Agenda for Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee on Monday, 4th October, 2021, 10.30 am | Cumbria County Council

It includes:

  • Impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic
  • Updates on the Health and Care Bill Implementation and Local Government Reform
  • Enhanced Network Model of Acute Stroke Care and Rehabilitation in Lancashire and South Cumbria 
  • Update on NHS Dentistry in North Cumbria
  • Rowanwood Ward, Carleton Clinic, Carlisle - Temporary Closure Update
  • Ambulance Provision in Alston

Tuesday music spot: Johann Pachelbel - Ciacona in F (a chance from the Canon!)

Quote of the day 28th Sept 2021


 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Action to address the shortage of HGV drivers and secure fuel supplies

The government has announced a temporary relaxation of competition laws and new measures to increase the number of HGV drivers, helping to ease pressures affecting petrol stations across the UK as a result of increased demand. 

  • There is no shortage of fuel in the UK. A spike in localised demand has led to increased pressures at our petrol stations - and the government will take whatever action is necessary to resolve this. 
     
  • The government is implementing The Downstream Oil Protocol – a temporary exemption to competition laws to enable information sharing between petrol stations – and also introducing short term visas for HGV drivers, increasing HGV testing, and establishing skills bootcamps to train up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers and provide more resilience in the system. 
     
  • These measures will help petrol stations to respond to the increased demand – and we urge all drivers to act responsibly in filling up their cars.

Quote of the day 27th September 2021


 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The true cost of the pandemic

There was a time earlier in the pandemic when half the people on social media seemed to be sharing charts designed to show that countries whose governments or policies they liked had lower COVID-19 death rates or that governments or policies they disliked had worse ones.

The trouble with almost all these attempts is that comparing the statistics from different countries tends to be like comparing apples and pears.

Even those countries which tried hardest to provide honest reports of the  number of COVID-related deaths were probably under-stating the impact during the first wave though those countries are  probably over-reporting it now - most of the people in hospitals in Britain who have COVID-19 have other serious conditions as well. For most of those reported as having died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, there is a good chance that COVID contributed to their deaths  

The most accurate attempts to monitor the true cost of the pandemic in terms of human lives lost have been those which concentrated on the number of excess deaths.

There has been important work on this in the past from both the FT and the Economist: for anyone who really wants to understand the true net impact of the pandemic, direct and indirect in terms of human lives lost, the latest Economist site tracking excess deaths compared with the rate at which people were reaching the end of their lives before the pandemic is a must-read.

You can find it by clicking on the link below

The pandemic’s true death toll | The Economist

Kinder, gentler politics ?

Politicians of all parties should resist the temptation to whip up hatred against their opponents. 

If they give way to the temptation to denigrate their opponents in dehumanising language in private and it leaks, they should apologise, not double down.

As former Labour MP Tom Harris wrote today on Twitter in response to the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, referring to her Conservative opponents as "scum,"

"If it’s acceptable for Labour MPs to use dehumanising language about other people, then it’s open season on anyone who wants to do the same. A dangerous road to be drawn down by over-promoted student politicians."

Sunday music spot: G.F. Handel's "The King Shall Rejoice"

Quote of the day 26th September 2021

"Not since Gordon Brown’s unwise declaration of support for ‘British jobs for British workers’ has a Labour leader wrapped himself so decisively in the Union flag. What’s significant is that none of this – not a sentence or comma – would be remotely legal if Britain were still an EU member. 

Offering favouritism and public contracts to British firms would have the European Court of Justice descending on parliament like a tonne (metric measures only) of bricks. 

Yet here we are, one of, if not the, most enthusiastic supporters of British EU membership, basing his entire economic prospectus on a legal structure that can only be made to work outside the European Union."

(Extract from a review by Tom Harris on the CAPX site of Sir Keir Starmer's 12,000 magnum opus "The Way forward."

I commend this review because it is neither a hatchet job nor a sycophantic puff piece in support: Harris is not afraid to both criticize what he thinks is wrong and praise what he thinks is right. As such the article should be of interest to both intelligent Conservatives seeking to understand our main opposition and intelligent Labour supporters seeking to learn how their leader's approach is perceived by open-minded former friends. You can read the full review here.)

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Why everyone should read a book such as "How to lie with statistics" by Darrell Huff

One of the themes I wrote about quite frequently when  I first started this blog was the desperate need in modern society for a better understanding of statistics.

It's not a new problem - Disraeli referred to as far back as the nineteenth century to "Lies, Damned lies, and statistics" but about the only skill in relation to statistics which is common - particularly among salesmen and advertisers, politicians, pressure groups and journalists - if the ability to pick the statistic which best supports the story you want to tell.

Unfortunately that particular statistic will only rarely and incidentally be the one which is also the most helpful and accurate in understanding the whole truth.










I was prompted to revisit the need to improve statistical knowledge when an individual who may or not have meant to be ironic posted a comment on this blog in response to a mention of misleading averages. He or she asked whether the concept that averages could be misleading was my idea.

No, it's not my idea, people who write books about how to understand and use statistics have been including chapters about issues such as how averages can be misleading for well over half a century. And anyone for whom the idea is a surprise or novelty really does need to read one of those books.


It is apparent that many people, including some who are very eminent in areas of knowledge other than mathematics, lack the most basic understanding of statistics. What is even more unfortunate is that some of those people wrongly imagine that they do understand statistics, sometimes to an extent amounting to Dunning-Kruger delusions of competence. They can do terrible damage as a result.

A classic example from earlier in this century, about which I blogged here at the time and revisited here occurred when one of the most distinguished paediatricians in Britain - a man who really did know a vast amount about children's illness and mortality - was struck off when it became clear that he had given mistaken evidence as an expert witness in murder trials, evidence which resulted in at least two women who were almost certainly innocent being sent to jail. 

That disciplinary action was quashed by a court, during a legal battle which eventually produced a compromise ruling; the decision to strike him off stayed quashed, but fortunately the Appeal Court overturned an unwise finding by a lower court that expert witnesses were immune from disciplinary action for giving inaccurate evidence. So expert witnesses who cause a miscarriage of justice by giving evidence in court which is dangerous nonsense can be held to account for it.

The basic problem was that neither the expert witness himself nor the people who should have challenged him realised that his vast expertise in one area - child health - did not translate into understanding of statistics. He gave evidence as an expert witness in the trials of a number of women whose children had died and who were accused of murdering them. 

Unfortunately, because of his enormous knowledge of paediatrics, at least two juries accepted at face value statements which he made about the probability of a family losing two or more children to cot death which were completely wrong and gross underestimates because he apparently did not understand the concept of conditional probability. As a consequence of this misunderstanding of statistics, at least two women who were almost certainly innocent were wrongly convicted of murder.

The expert witness was the main culprit, but he was not the only one. The defence lawyers should have challenged his statistics. The jurors should have realised that his expertise in medicine did not guarantee expertise in maths. But above all, our society is too ready to both to tolerate bad statistics unless we have good reason to want to disbelieve them, and to reject good statistical data which does not fit our preconceptions. This particular case, where innocent women were sent to jail because of bad statistics, is an extreme one but it is far from being the only case.


Anyone who serves as a judge, barrister or on the jury in a court, any citizen of a democracy who wants to be able to cast their vote having made an intelligent assessment of the statistics put out by competing candidates or campaigns, and anyone who doesn't want to be easily fooled by clever but misleading adverts, would be very will advised to make sure he or she has read at least one good book on how to understand statistics and avoid being fooled by bad ones.

One of the oldest, but still one of the best and easiest to understand is "How to lie with statistics" by Darrell Huff. Apart from, perhaps, what sixty years of inflation has done to the relevance of some of the prices quoted, this excellent book has aged astonishingly well and almost everything in it is still very relevant indeed,

Despite being about numbers but manages to be both extremely easy to read and very entertaining.

And although it is so accessible that a ten-year old of average intelligence should be able to understand everything in this book, the points it makes are so universal in application that even someone with much greater mathematical knowledge - and I write this as a graduate with two degrees in a discipline which requires statistical understanding - can find it full of useful reminders and even the odd valuable idea you might not have thought of or heard of.

The book is about how numbers can be manipulated, by accident or design, to trick people into making false conclusions, and how to spot when you are being fed misleading numbers. 

Anyone with a serious interest in the subject who wants an update on some of the more recent examples of how statistics are misused might start by reading "How to Lie with Statistics" and then follow up with the equally good "Damned Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best, which is more current and nearly as accessible. The two books complement each other very well. Best has written a sequel, "More damned lies and statistics."

If every voter read books like these, fewer bad politicians would be elected on the basis of dishonest campaign statistics. If every consumer read them, fewer bad products would be sold on the basis of dishonest advertising statistics, and if every journalist read them there might be less harm done by scare stories based on bad statistics.

Community Charity event in Moor Row

Congratulations to John and Lesley Sloan and all involved with the successful event at Moor Row Club this afternoon which I understand raised about £2000 for cancer charities, Young Lives vs. Cancer, MacMillans and Danica's Dream Fund. 

Magnificent effort, it was obvious that people had worked very hard preparing it.

Saturday music spot: Offenbach, overture to "Orpheus in the Underworld"

The School rebuilding programme

This week the government began rebuilding the first of 500 schools to benefit under the 10 year School Rebuilding Programme, providing state of the art and net zero compliant facilities for pupils and staff as we build back better.

  • As students catch up on their education, Britain must aim to deliver world class facilities to help them fulfil their potential while creating jobs and meeting our net zero target. 
     
  • That is why the goernment is investing in the school estate by starting the first 100 projects out of 500 that will benefit from £2 billion in funding to create world-leading classrooms, science labs, sports halls and dining rooms. 
     
  • This programme will improve the lives and education of thousands of children across the country over years to come, and their communities –  as we truly build back better.

Quote of the day 25th September 2021


 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Fair play on tips

Today the government announced plans to overhaul tipping practice by making it illegal for employers to withhold tips from workers – providing a boost to workers in pubs, cafes and restaurants across the country.

  • Unfortunately some companies choose to withhold cash from hardworking staff who have been tipped by customers as a reward for good service. 
     
  • That is why the government is overhauling tipping practices by making it illegal for employers to withhold tips from workers – helping around 2 million people keep more of the money they earn.
     
  • The government is already providing a boost to workers, through the National Living Wage – this policy to protect tips will also help ensure that workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Music to start the weekend: Franz von Suppé, "Light Cavalry"

Daniel Johnson on the latest left-wing smear campaign against Kemi Badenoch

Anyone who puts their head above the parapet and stands for election can expect to be the target of criticism. Where this is discussion, even robust discussion, of their views and actions, it is fair comment. But sometimes it crosses the line into abuse.

And it is my impression that, other things being equal, you get significantly more of this on social media for each of the following which apply

  1. If you are a tory
  2. If you are female
  3. If you are a member of an ethnic minority 

The most obvious example of someone who is all three and gets an inexcusable amount of abuse is, of course, the home secretary, Priti Patel. Many of the comments aimed at her are such that the very people making them would rightly describe as racist and misogynistic equivalent comments made about, say, Diane Abbott MP or Dawn Butler MP. 

When Theresa May was prime minister she once said that you don't have to agree with a word Diane Abbott says to find the volume of abuse directed at Britain's first female ethnic minority MP to be unacceptable. Similarly you don't have to agree with a word Priti Patel says or with her policies to find a great deal of what is posted on social media or indeed printed in supposedly respectable newspapers like the Guardian about Britain's first ethnic minority female Home Secretary to be well out of order.


As the US economist Thomas Sowell pointed out in my Quote of the Day below, it is a little absurd to say that you want to see minorities fairly represented in positions of power and then vilify members of ethnic minorities who have been elected to such positions as members of political parties you don't happen to agree with as traitors. But the left is very prone to vilifying black Conservatives on exactly that kind of basis.

Besides the home secretary there are several more BAME female Conservative politicians who get similar flak from the left. One of them is Kemi Badenoch MP, who was promoted in the recent reshuffle. Not for the first time, the left is running a smear campaign against her, as described by Daniel Johnson on the Article site here. It will not work. When will they ever learn?  


Quote of the day 24th September 2021


 

"The Economist" calls for the resignation of the head of the IMF

The Economist magazine makes a strong case for the resignation of Kristalina Georgieva, who is now head of the IMF, for her role in an incident when she was deputy which appears to amounted to fiddling figures the IMF publishes to benefit China and three other countries.

As they begin

"In 2003 the world bank launched a league table that assessed the ease of doing business in different countries around the world. By 2017 Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister, grumbled that his country was lagging behind its peers. At his urging, officials began freeing entrepreneurs from red tape—and crimson ink. They cut fees, streamlined approvals, and began to use electronic seals instead of the traditional ink stamp on many documents."

So far, so good - the figures gave China an incentive to make it easier to do business there. the problem occurred when the government of China was not satisfied that the latest IMF figures reflected adequately the progress they had made.

According to the magazine, a new investigation has found that IMF staff 

"improperly altered the scores of China and three other countries. They wanted to spare China an embarrassing fall in the rankings in 2017, just as its reforms were gathering steam. According to the investigation, the China tweaks were carried out at the behest of the bank’s then president, Jim Yong Kim, and his second-in-command, Kristalina Georgieva."

Ms Georgieva says she only asked researchers to triple-check the data. However,

"The investigators found that she and the team explored a change in the bank’s method (ie, including only one city per country) to engineer a better result. And, according to the bank’s own review, the tweaks that were finally implemented introduced errors rather than removing them."

The magazine points out that the IMF is the custodian of data standards for the world’s macroeconomic statistics. The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry. They point out that te IMF's critics 

"are already citing this affair as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China. The next time the IMF tries to referee a currency dispute, or helps reschedule the debt of a country that has borrowed from China, the fund’s critics are sure to cite this investigation to undermine the institution’s credibility."

they argue that the best way to restore that credibility is for Ms Georgieva to fall on her sword,

You can read the full article here (You may need to register.)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Midweek music spot: "I Vow To Thee My Country," the Bands of HM Royal Marines

Fun fact of the week

The Labour party's public policy is that Britain should have a minimum wage of £10 per hour,

But unless they notice this inconsistency and change their mind, next week the party is due to pay stewards at their conference £9.50 an hour.

Quote of the day 22nd September 2021

“The growth of social media and the rapid polarisation of our political sphere have demonstrated more than ever that debate in the absence of civility can be not only unproductive but hugely damaging.”

Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, while introducing a debate on freedom of speech among students and staff.

You don't have to agree with all his views and actions in relation to free speech to realise that he had a point with this one,


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tuesday music spot: Handel, "Da Tempeste"

HIlary Carrick's piece on Conservative Home about Local Government reorganisation in Cumbria

If you have heard local community leaders in Cumbria or two other areas of the country where it is taking place use the acronym "LGR" they mean "Local government reorganisation."

Cumbria County Council and the six district councils in the county are all being abolished and replaced with two new "Unitary" councils, one covering the are currently served by Allerdale Borough Council, Carlisle City Council and Copeland Borough Council, the other covering the area currently served by Barrow-in-Furness, Eden and South Lakeland councils. 

This is an opportunity to provide better service and a challenge - if it is done right it has the potential to improve services by putting in one place services which should be provided co-operatively but have been hampered by the failure of County and District level counties to work together - it shouild also save considerable sums by having fewer politicians, administrators and duplicated administration which can be redirected to front-line services.

The challenge is to make sure that it is done right, and that the enormous effort required to build the new councils - and to do it on a tight timescale - does not lead to a loss of focus on the issues important to residents of Cumbria.

Cllr Hilary Carrick, the Leader of the Conservative Group on Cumbria County Council, has a piece on Conservative Home about the process and the range of opinions about it.

You can read it here


Quote of the day 21st September 2021

 “Indelibly seared into my memory are the scenes I witnessed while liberating these centres of death and destruction. Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget — the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned… I had peered into Hell.”

(Ben Ferencz, 101 years old, and  the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, in the book "Planethood" referenced in an interview piece published today on the "The Article" website, "Peering into Hell" which can be read here and is worth a read.)



Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday music spot: Handel "As steals the morn"

September meeting of Cumbria Pensions Committee

The pensions committee which manages the pension funds for all the councils and various other public services in Cumbria meetings tomorrow (21st September 2021) at 9.30 am in Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle. Some but not all of the meeting will be open to the public.

As you would expect of a body which looks after £3 billion of public money and the retirement savings of thousands of public servants, the reports to the committee are quite detailed and thorough - the full agenda is two inches thick and runs to 775 pages.

Those papers which are available to the public can be found on the council website at

Agenda for Cumbria Pensions Committee on Tuesday, 21st September, 2021, 9.30 am | Cumbria County Council.

The main reason some parts of the committee's work is not public is that when you are buying or selling assets it is not in your interests to give away advance notice of your negotiating position by determining it in public. That would not be in the interests of Cumbria's taxpayers or public employees. 


Quote of the day 20th Septenber 2021

 "Alok Sharma could read the Book of Revelation and make it sound like a railway timetable"

(Comment on the BBC Radio 4 politics hour last night. This appeared to be a complement about his ability to keep calm) 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Which face do the Lib/Dems want to save?

 I wasn't planning to mention the Lib/Dems again for a while after my piece on the first couple of days of their conference, but there is a question they really should be asked.

Is their policy on building new houses the one they had previously described at Westminster and reaffirmed again this weekend in a motion passed at their conference to build 380,000 new houses a year?

Or is their policy the anti-housebuilding position on which their candidate and now MP Sarah Green fought the Chesham and Amersham by-election?

Because it can't be both.

Either the motion they passed yesterday at their conference calling for 380,000 new houses to be built each year was pure window dressing with no relation to anything they would actually attempt to do, or the anti-housebuilding stance taken by Sarah Green's campaign and reaffirmed today by their party leader Ed Davey was a cynical and duplicitous trick on the voters of Chesham and Amersham.

There are difficult choices facing any party in government, or running a planning authority, on how to get the houses people need while making sure there is enough infrastructure to support them and no area is ruined by overdevelopment. You cannot please everyone, or indeed, as I know to my cost, run a national or local planning body without making lots of enemies, and the harder you try to get the balance right the more enemies you make.

But any party which tells young people desperate to get on the housing ladder they they're going to build 380,000 new homes each year while simultaneously promising middle-class homeowners in constituencies like Chesham and Amersham that they will stop the Tories building so many houses is not to be trusted. At least one of those promises has to be untrue.



Sunday music spot: Handel's "Waft her, Angels, through the skies"

Jimmy Greaves RIP

 Sorry to learn of the death of legendary Spurs and England football star Jimmy Greaves at the age of 81.

To one generation of football fans he was a popular commentator, particularly remembered half of the "Saint and Greavsie" partnership with former Scotland and Liverpool player Ian St John (who also died this year.)

To an earlier generation of football fans Jimmy Greaves was one of the greatest goal scorers of all time.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 19th September 2021

“We don’t think what Tim and Sue are doing is particularly helpful. There is an urgent need for real action to tackle climate change, but blocking roads and sewing your lips together is not the right way to go about it.

“It’s this sort of thing that alienates people and makes them think that tackling the climate crisis is not possible without extremist measures. We don't think the protests this week led to anything other than irritated drivers and could well have placed people in danger.”


(Church of England sources quoted in the Telegraph referring to the Reverend Tim Hewes and the Reverend Sue Parfitt, two priests who were among the protesters who glued themselves to M25 slip roads this week)

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Thanks to those who sponsored me for Swimathon 2021

 A very big thank you to all those generous souls who have so far sponsored me for Swimathon 2021 and thereby supported two excellent causes - Cancer research UK and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

I completed the swimathon - 200 lengths of Copeland Pool (5,000 metres) in two hours and nine minutes; here are the swimming cap and medal I have to remember the event



You can view my sponsorship page - and donate to Cancer Research and Marie Curie if you are feeling generous - by licking on this link:

Christopher Whiteside is fundraising for Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie & The Swimathon Foundation (justgiving.com)

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

Reflections following the first day of Lib/Dem conference

I generally try to avoid putting in too many comments on political parties other than my own into this blog - indeed, when I quote a politician from another party it is often one of the rare occasions when I agree with him or her.

So this is my first mention of the Lib/Dems for weeks and frankly, this one will probably last me for the rest of the year.

All political parties get accused of facing both ways at once, and because grown-up politics is often a compromise between competing priorities, there is often a bit of justice in it.

But few parties are capable of being as comprehensively two-faced as the Liberal Democrats and in the first two days of their conference they are set to excel themselves.


The Liberal Democrat conference could almost be an attempt to prove that their leader Ed Davey and his team cannot be trusted.


They will say anything to try to get elected – I learned this a long time ago when in Cumbria they were saying that Trident subs should be built and maintained in Barrow while at the same time they were saying in the West Country that Trident subs should be built and maintained there and in Westminster they were voting that Trident subs should not be built and maintained at all. In this if in nothing else the Lib/Dem leopards have not changed their spots.

  • The Liberal Democrats say one thing nationally and another locally, and deceptively campaign against their own positions in elections.
     
  • Liberal Democrats in Cumbria have joined in an undemocratic, Labour administration which has been a block on the county's progress. A vote for the Lib/Dems has been a vote for Labour.
     

On the first day of their conference we heard from:

  • Ed Davey – who admitted that the Liberal Democrats were planning to increase borrowing, showing why the Liberal Democrats cannot be trusted with the public finances.
     
  • Layla Moran – who reaffirmed the Liberal Democrats plan to rejoin the European Union, taking us back to the divisions of the past. I write this as someone who voted Remain - do we really want to fight that "in or out" battle which consumed British politics for four years all over again?

Over the next few days, the Liberal Democrats are set to pass a number of new policy motions which show just how out of touch the party is:

  • Today they are due to debate plans to give councils the power to seize land for housing development as they call for higher housing targets – despite campaigning against housebuilding in the Chesham and Amersham by-election and many localities including here in Cumbria.  They run with the NIMBY hare and hunt with the Housebuilders Federation hounds.
     
  • Liberal Democrats are also set to discuss motions calling for taxes to be raised on electricity bills, hitting hard-working families.
     
  • And their Deputy Leader, Daisy Cooper, (MP for St Albans - God help St Albans) will set out the Liberal Democrat policy on education, which includes making media studies a mandatory part of the primary school curriculum.

 

Quote of the day 18th September 2021

 


Friday, September 17, 2021

The PRC will use "any means" to persuade Taiwan to rejoin them. Some suggestions.

"Nothing in the world can stand in the way of the unification of China"

If Chinese 'unification' with Taiwan cannot be achieved peacefully, then "any means will be possible" says Victor Gao, vice president of the Centre for China and globalisation.

Well, if the People's Republic of China is really willing to consider "any means" to persuade the people of Taiwan to rejoin them, here are a few suggestions for things they could do to make the people of Taiwan want to do so.

Prove that territories which join China will be treated well and the promises made by the PRC on how it will treat such territories will be honoured by keeping the promises made to Hong Kong

  • Honour the promise of "One country, two systems"
  • Scrap the National security law and restore freedom of speech and assembly and fair trials
  • Release all the people unjustly arrested for non-violent protests or for having the "wrong" political opinions
  • Reinstate Legco members sacked for believing in the democratic principles they were elected to uphold, pending free elections.
  • Restore independent courts and free elections to Legco
Establish freedom of thought and stop persecuting religious believers. Allow people of whatever creed or faith the free, non-violent expression of their views.
  • Close the 380 re-education camps in Xinjiang province in which about a million people, mostly from predominantly muslim ethnic minorities such as  Uighurs, have been detained, release and compnsate the victims who are or have been detained there
  • Stop persecuting and discriminating against other religious groups including Bhuddists, Falun Gong and Christians
Stop trying to destrioy the culture of areas like Tibet

Stop arresting and jailing journalists - or worse - for telling the truth

Great news for Cumbria as BAE in Barrow wins nuclear sub design work

Design work for the next-generation of Royal Navy submarines is underway following the award of two contracts to UK industry, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced today.

Two contracts worth £85 million each have been awarded to BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce to deliver design and concept work for a future class of Royal Navy submarine.

Over the next three years and supporting 350 jobs - 250 for BAE at Barrow in Furness and 100 at Rolls-Royce in Dervby - the contracts will deliver design work for the replacements for the Astute Class submarines – the nuclear powered fleet of submarines (SSNs) currently in service with the Royal Navy.


Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

“Marking the start of a new journey for the Royal Navy’s submarines, British designers and engineers will lead the way in developing submarines for our Royal Navy.

“This multi-million pound investment ensures that this vital capability will be ready to replace our Astute Class submarines as they come out of service, whilst supporting high-skilled jobs across the Midlands and North West of England.”

The Defence Secretary is firmly committed to supporting the UK shipbuilding and maritime industries, of which these contracts will play an important role. Underpinned by the Prime Minister’s £24 billion increase in defence spending across four years, these contracts build upon commitments outlined in the recent Defence Command Paper ensuring that the Royal Navy has a world-leading underwater capability prepared to meet future threats.

Simplifying international travel


  • Public health is central to Britain's international travel policy – and with more than eight in ten adults fully vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce an updated system.
     
  • That is why the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has today announced a simpler, more straightforward approach for international travel – scrapping costly pre-departure and PCR tests for fully vaccinated passengers, and moving away from the ‘traffic light system’ towards an easier to understand travel list.
     
  • These changes will allow more people to travel, see loved ones, and conduct business around the world – while also providing a boost for the travel sector as we build back better from the pandemic.

The government aims to do this by:

  • Creating a simplified system for international travel by ending the traffic light system, providing greater stability for industry and passengers. From 4 October, we will no longer use a traffic light system of red, amber or green – but instead have a ‘red list’ of countries that are most at risk and people should not travel to, and the ‘rest of the world’, which will be a merger of the green and amber country lists.
     
  • Reducing testing requirements for eligible fully vaccinated travellers, lowering costs and making it easier to travel. From 4 October, fully vaccinated passengers travelling from non-red list countries into England will no longer be required to take a pre departure test before arrival – and later in October, will only have to take a day 2 lateral flow test, instead of a more costly PCR test. All passengers will still be required to fill in a Passenger Locator Form ahead of travel. 
     
  • Retaining testing measures for non-vaccinated travellers, stopping the spread of the virus in the UK. Passengers arriving from non-red list countries who are not fully vaccinated will have to take a pre-departure test, a day 2 and 8 PCR test, and self-isolate for ten days upon their return – with Test to Release remaining an option if they wish to shorten their isolation period. For passengers arriving from red list countries – the managed 10-day quarantine will continue, and Test to Release will not be an option.
     
  • Extending the inbound vaccination policy to more countries, allowing people to travel safely into the UK. In addition to the EU and US, from 4 October we will also permit entry to people who have been fully vaccinated in 17 more countries and territories – including Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Today's hybrid meeting of the NHS Community Joint Forum for North Cumbria

There was another meeting which was an important first today - a hybrid meeting of the NHS community forum for the Northern two-thirds of Cumbria - covering the NCIC area, which roughly corresponds to the local authority areas of Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden (and to the historic county of Cumberland.)

This was a hybrid meeting - with some people physically present in one room while others joined online via Zoom. I think this was a first for Cumbria - a lot of public bodies have had online meetings, some have gone back to physical ones, and some in other parts of the country - including parliament - have experimented with hybrid meetings but I do not recall a similar hybrid meeting in this county,

I thought it worked well and I hope we will consider continuing this kind of meeting where it is appropriate even after the pandemic.

One item of very good news from the meeting was that the plans for the next stage of redevelopment of West Cumberland Hospital will be going on display next week, at the hospital, online, and via the press. We had a preview today and they look really encouraging.

Watch this space for details of how you can see the new plans online.



First meeting of the new cabinet

This morning the Prime Minister's new Cabinet met for the first time - getting on with the job of building back better from the pandemic and delivering on the people’s priorities. 

  • The Conservative government's focus is getting on with the job: managing Covid, continuing our historic vaccine rollout, levelling up and getting more people into work - and we will also redouble our efforts to deliver on the people’s priorities.
     
  • The Prime Minister's new cabinet will deliver on this mission - uniting and levelling up every corner of the country, and seizing the opportunity to fix the long-standing problems that have held back too many people for far too long.
     
  • Our new, strong and united team are getting on with the job to build back better from the pandemic - delivering on the promises we made to the British people.

Music to start the weekend: Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor (BWV 1041)

Quote of the day 17th September 2021

"The fact that the market is not doing what we wish it would do is no reason to automatically assume that the government would do better." 

(Thomas Sowell, American economist)


 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Copeland MP appointed to Department of Transport

Congratulations to Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, on joining the government as a junior Transport minister as the Prime Minister appoints a new cabinet and ministerial team to build back better from the pandemic and deliver on the people’s priorities.

  • The Conservative government's focus over the coming months is getting on with the job: managing Covid, continuing our historic vaccine rollout, levelling up and getting more people into work - and we will redouble our efforts to deliver on the people’s priorities. 
     
  • The Prime Minister's team will deliver on this mission - uniting and levelling up every corner of the country, and seizing the opportunity to fix the long-standing problems that have held back too many people for far too long. 
     
  • Our new, strong and united team are getting on with the job to build back better from the pandemic - delivering on the promises we made to the British people.
  • Trudy Harrison joins the government as a junion minister with an interesting brief which includes the future of transport and freight, environmental impacts of transport (including Decarbonistion, transport relations with the EU and - the bit the media will pick up on - Space.
  • Sadly this does not mean she will instantly be able to get all the money for Copeland's roads which is desperately needed - sometimes I wish British governments worked like that, but they don't - but I am keeping my fingers crossed that having our MP in the transport team will help.

Working with the USA and Australia to keep Britian and the world more safe and secure

The Prime Minister has announced a new security partnership with the US and Australia, making the world safer and generating jobs across every part of the United Kingdom.

  • The UK, Australia and US are natural allies – while we may be separated geographically, we share interests and values as leading democracies and strong believers in freedom. 
     
  • That is why the Prime Minister yesterday joined President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison to announce a new ‘AUKUS’ defence partnership, which will strengthen our security collaboration, foster deeper integration on defence science and technology, and see Australia draw on British and US expertise to help them acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. 
  • Obviously this latter point is good news for Cumbria as it may mean a boost to the BAE systems submarine industry in Barrow-in-Furness.
     
  • The new alliance will join us even more closely together with some of our oldest friends, help protect our people against new and emerging threats and create hundreds of skilled jobs across our Union as we continue to drive forward with levelling up.

Quote of the day 16th September 2021



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Vaccination booster jabs

The government has announced that millions of the most vulnerable in society will be offered a Covid-19 booster vaccine from next week, giving them the strongest possible protection over the winter months.

  • Britain's vaccine roll-out has been phenomenal - but we must do everything we can to prolong the protection our vaccines offer, particularly for the most vulnerable, as we head into the autumn and winter months. 
     
  • That is why, following advice from the JCVI, next week the NHS will begin offering a booster vaccine to those most at risk, including care home residents, health and social care workers, people aged over 50, and 16 to 49 year olds with underlying health conditions. 
     
  • This will give the best possible protection to the most vulnerable over the months ahead, and all those eligible who do not have specific reason not to are urged to get their Covid-19 and flu vaccines as soon as they can.

Start Up Loans

£600 million has been provided under the Start Up Loans scheme to businesses outside London, creating jobs across the country and levelling up as we build back better.

  • While talent is evenly spread across the country, opportunity is not, and without access to funding it is harder to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great. 
     
  • That is why, through our Start Up Loans scheme, the government have now provided £600 million in loans to businesses outside London – giving aspiring business owners up to £25,000 each to launch their business, that they may otherwise have struggled to get from a commercial lender. 
     
  • This will help a diverse range of entrepreneurs across the UK to get their businesses off the ground, create more jobs – supporting talent and levelling up the entire country.

Job vacancies up: unemployment down

New figures out this week show that job vacancies have hit a record high and unemployment has fallen – and that the Plan for Jobs to get people back into employment is working.

  • Throughout the pandemic the government has invested over £400 billion to protect lives and livelihoods – and now as we continue our recovery, we are creating the jobs this country needs to build back better.
     
  • New figures out yesterday show that our plan is working – with unemployment down to 4.6 per cent, job vacancies rising to over one million for the first time since records began, and the number of employees on payroll back up to pre Covid levels.
     
  • Through our Plan for Jobs Conservatives will continue supporting people into work, ensuring they get the skills they need to get good jobs and helping businesses fill their vacancies to get our economy moving.

Midweek music spot: Bach's Fugue in G minor (BWV 578)

Quote of the day 15th September 2021

"All statements are true, if you are free to redefine their terms."

(Thomas Sowell, American economist.)



Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The government has announced that £600 million has been provided under the Start Up Loans scheme to businesses outside London, creating jobs across the country and levelling up as we build back better.

  • While talent is evenly spread across the country, opportunity is not, and without access to funding it is harder to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great. 
     
  • That is why, through the Start Up Loans scheme, the government has now provided £600 million in loans to businesses outside London – giving aspiring business owners up to £25,000 each to launch their business, that they may otherwise have struggled to get from a commercial lender. 
     
  • This will help a diverse range of entrepreneurs across the UK to get their businesses off the ground, create more jobs – supporting talent and levelling up the entire country.

Quote of the day 14th September 2021

 


Monday, September 13, 2021

Trial launches of new test for cancer

Today the NHS is launching the world’s first trial of a revolutionary new blood test for cancer detection as Britain's world-leading scientists continue to pioneer innovative cancer diagnosis and treatments.  

  • Cancer is a devastating disease which wrecks far too many lives, but by finding cancer before signs and symptoms even appear, we can give people the best possible chance of beating the disease.  
     
  • That is why today, the NHS is launching the world’s largest trial of a revolutionary new blood test – the Galleri test - that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear. If this trial is successful, it will save many lives and play a major part in achieving our NHS Long Term Plan ambition to catch three quarters of cancers at an early stage.
     
  • Ensuring fewer people need treatment for advanced cancer is vital for patient care, and another example of the NHS innovating to be more efficient – which will be crucial in bringing down the backlog.

Renewable energy

Today the government has announced the biggest-ever round of our flagship renewable energy scheme, backed by an additional £265 million, as we lead the world in clean electricity generation, lower prices for consumers and creating jobs.

  • The Conservative government is committed to supporting the next generation of renewable electricity projects needed to power our homes and meet our world-leading climate change targets. 
     
  • That is the reason for today's announcement of the biggest round yet in the flagship renewable energy scheme, Contracts for Difference, backed by £265 million to encourage investment in low-carbon electricity, with £200 million to support offshore wind projects, as well as £55 million for supporting emerging renewable technologies and creating well-paid highly skilled jobs in our former industrial heartlands. 
     
  • This will deliver on the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan and helps Britain to maintain our place as world leaders in clean electricity generation. It will also lower prices for consumers, as we continue to commit to green technology and build back better.

Monday music spot: Bach's "Air on a G string" from Suite No. 3 in D major

Alex Massie on the SNP's retreat to a fantasy world

Alex Massie has written a very powerful response to the separatist fantasies in which the SNP indulged at their virtual conference. Here are a few extracts.


“Even by the elevated standards of nationalist chutzpah, Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the virtual SNP conference was a remarkable exercise in sophistry. In this, if little else, the first minister truly is the world-beating leader that her followers imagine her to be. 

Her government’s failures, you see, are not really its fault. Rather, she is hamstrung by the inadequacies of the opposition at Holyrood.

Just as Celtic and Rangers have historically blamed their failures in European football on the inadequate opposition provided by the likes of Motherwell or Kilmarnock, so the SNP’s shortcomings are apparently the responsibility of the Tories and Labour and even, heavens, the Liberal Democrats.”


Effective opposition matters in a democracy”, the first minister said, “but that is not what we have in Scotland”. 

Perhaps so and perhaps not, but effective government also matters and we don’t have that either.


Speaking of the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, Sturgeon reiterated that her “overriding priority every day is to keep Scotland as safe as possible”. Doubtless this is so but if safety is understood more broadly — if it is considered as a financial proposition — the first minister remains determined to pursue a course of reckless national impoverishment.


“The SNP asks Scots to place their faith in a vision of independence in which Scotland, most unusually, would try to operate without a central bank. In such circumstances the 2008 financial crisis would have shipwrecked Scotland and so would the pandemic.

As John Swinney has finally acknowledged, quantitative easing — the mechanism by which the Bank of England has, like other central banks, bought massive quantities of debt — would not be available to Scotland. The alternative would be to sell debt on the open market, a risky proposition for a fledgling state with no financial history and one guaranteed to be alarmingly, ruinously, expensive.


“As reality is an unpleasantly tough business, it is better to retreat to the comfort of wishful thinking. It is considered unseemly, even vulgar, to note the practical difficulties imposed by independence. Far better to pretend everything will be all right on the night. Or, as Sturgeon pretends, the “challenges” of independence are no greater or different to the challenges any country faces. This too is not the truth.

Increasingly I find myself with greater time and respect for those rare nationalists who acknowledge the difficulties of independence but think it worthwhile despite the cost, than for the greater number who insist all shall be for the best in this, the best of all imaginary worlds.”


“It bears repeating that all previous editions of the case for independence have been built on doses of wishful thinking so heroic they amount to a kind of fraud. The 2014 White Paper on independence was a fantasy now quietly disowned by those who authored it.” 


“This much is clear” Sturgeon said in her speech, “Democracy must, and will, prevail”. The first minister insists those who oppose a referendum are the enemies of democracy.”

“The people disrespecting democracy are the nationalists who insist 2014 produced a result that has no meaning or standing whatsoever. Sturgeon insists her election victory gives her a mandate but her opponents’ mandate, which stems from the 2014 result, still has relevance too. Hence the impasse in which we find ourselves and no amount of whining from either side can change this reality.”


You can read the full article - it is behind a paywall but they offer a certain number of "taster" free articles at 

Alex Massie: Nationalists retreat into the comfort of wishful thinking | Scotland | The Times