Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Tuesday music spot: the last movement of "Winter" from Vivaldi's four seasons

Action to protect everyone against the Omicron variant

The government has announced that from Today, new measures will come into force to reduce the spread of COVID-19, taking precautionary steps to bolster our wall of defence against the virus.

  • The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic, and we must take steps to protect the gains we have made in our fight against the virus. 
  • That is why the government has announced new measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – from Tuesday 30th November, all contacts of suspected Omicron cases must by law self-isolate for 10 days, face coverings will become compulsory in shops and on public transport, and all fully vaccinated international arrivals must take a PCR test on or before day 2 and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.  
  • Under the UK presidency Britain will also be convening an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the developments and international cooperation on Omicron.
  • Vaccines remain our most effective tool against COVID-19 and everyone who is eligible is urged to come forward for their booster jab. 

Quote of the day 30th November 2021

No apology for repeating this quote.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Congratulations to Zoe

Congratulations to Zoë Metcalfe on her election as Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Quote of the day 29th November 2021


National Tree Week - trees to be planted along the West coast of Cumbria from Barrow to Carlisle

This is National Tree Week, and to mark it the government has announced the launch of a third national community forest – helping to regenerate natural spaces as we build back greener. 

  • Trees are at the heart of our environmental programme and we must take action now to deliver on the commitments made at COP26.
  • That is why the government has announced the launch of our third national community forest – which will see up to 150 hectares of trees, woodlands and forests created along the west coast of Cumbria from Barrow to Carlisle – with details of funding pots available here
  • This initiative will help to stem the tide of biodiversity loss and better connect 65 miles of coastal communities to nature.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Text of the PM's statement this weekend about COVID-19

Here is the text of the PM's statement yesterday at the start of the press conference. 

"Good afternoon.

The UK’s plan against Covid has been working.

We’ve had the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, and now the fastest booster campaign in Europe, with almost 16.8 million boosters in people’s arms, and though case numbers have remained relatively high, we’re seen falling hospitalisations and falling numbers of deaths.

But on Wednesday we received news of a new variant - the so-called Omicron Variant - I want to express my deep gratitude to scientists in South Africa who identified this new variant and shared this information widely and immediately.

This variant is spreading around the world, with 2 cases so far identified here in the UK.

As always, and I must stress this, as always with a new variant, there are many things that we just cannot know at this early stage.

But our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly, and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.

There is also a very extensive mutation which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus, and as result, it might - at least in part - reduce the protection of our vaccines over time.

So we need to take targeted and proportionate measures now as a precaution while we find out more.

First, we need to slow down the seeding of this variant in our country.

We need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we are dealing with.

And for us to get more people vaccinated and - above all - to get more people boosted.

As well as to help our NHS prepare in what is an already challenging winter.

So yesterday we took steps to protect the UK against the variant coming here from southern African countries – and earlier today added four more countries to the red list.

But we now need to go further and implement a proportionate testing regime for arrivals from across the whole world.

So we are not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.

Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK.

Because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant, rather than stop it altogether.

So in addition to the measures we are already taking to locate those who have been in countries of concern over the last ten days, we will require all contacts of those who test positive - with a suspected case of Omicron - to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of your vaccination status.

We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant, by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.

And third - and most importantly - we need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.

And if you are boosted – your response is likely to be stronger.

So it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs, and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.

So from today we are going to boost the booster campaign.

We are already planning to do 6 million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks.

And now we are looking to go further, so the Health Secretary has asked the JCVI to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible, as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.

And, of course, we are speaking to our counterparts in the Devolved Administrations and will continue to coordinate with them.

The measures that we are taking today - including on our borders and face masks - are temporary and precautionary, and we will review them in three weeks.

At that point we should have much greater information about the continuing effectiveness of our vaccines.

I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position, and we can lift these measures again.

But right now this is the responsible course of action, to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant, and to maximise our defences so we protect the gains we have worked so hard for and so that we can continue to save lives.

Thank you."

A White Advent

Advent Sunday has been a perfect illustration of the number of micro-climates in West Cumbria (or, as we may soon go back to calling it, West Cumberland,)

First thing this morning my wife and I were in the Moor Row part of my council division, and as we left to go to church it was snowing quite heavily and some of the snow had settled - I had to clear it off the windscreen. In Whitehaven it was also snowing, but had not settled.

When we left St James's church at the end of the service, the precipitation had turned entirely to rain, and melted any snow which had managed to settle, but I had occasion to visit Cleator Moor,  Egremont, Bigrigg and return to Moor Row this morning: in all of those places different amounts of snow was still falling, though not as much as earlier in the morning, and different amounts had settled.

Advent Sunday music spot: Corelli's Christmas Concerto

Advent Sunday

Today is Advent Sunday. This may come as a surprise to those who have seen Christmas goods in the shops for months, but we are now finally at the start of the season leading up to Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Saturday music spot: Final part of the overture from Rossini's "William Tell" Opera

Energy supply

Energy supplier Bulb became this week the latest company in the industry to go into administration. The government continues to protect customers from the global spike in wholesale gas prices and ensure we build a more secure more homegrown energy supply for the future.

  • Since the global rise in wholesale gas prices the government have taken action to protect households and consumers this winter. 
  • BEIS has worked alongside the regulator Ofgem to ensure that there is a safety net in place and above all customers are protected and see no change in their supply.

The affect of the gas price spikes shows why we must double down on diversifying our deployment of nuclear and renewables and build a more secure home grown energy system. 

The Omicron variant

The UK government has we announced that from noon on Friday, several southern African countries were added to our travel red list as a precautionary move following the spread of a new variant.

  • As part of the UK's close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant, which UKHSA has designated a Variant under Investigation. The WHO has designated this the Omicron variant.
  • That is why from midday on Friday, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were put back on the UK’s travel red list. Passengers arriving in England from 4am on Sunday will be required to book a hotel quarantine facility for 10 days. Those arriving from these six countries between midday Friday and 4am Sunday, and who have been in these countries within the last 10 days, must quarantine for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booked.
  • The UK government is taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and is monitoring the situation closely.

Quote of the day 27th November 2021


Friday, November 26, 2021

Tragedy in the Channel, continued.

Yesterday, following the tragic loss of life in the Channel on Wednesday, the Prime Minister wrote to the French President to offer to move further and faster to prevent Channel crossings and stop the criminal gangs responsible.  

The loss of life in the Channel on Wednesday was an appalling tragedy – we must increase our efforts to break the criminal business model of people smugglers and prevent further tragedies.

The Prime Minister wrote to the French President to suggest joint patrols in UK and French territorial waters, the deployment of advanced technology – including ground sensors and radar, airborne surveillance by manned and unmanned aircraft, and deepening the work of our Joint Intelligence Cell with better real time intelligence sharing to deliver arrests and prosecutions on both sides of the Channel.

I cannot see that there is anything in any of these proposals, or in the fact that they were published on social media, to which the French government's response was a reasonable or proportionate one. I hope they will reconsider their action in cancelling a meeting with the Home Secretary this weekend. It is in the interests of both Britain and France - and of the migrants being put at risk by the gangsters who organise people smuggling - that our nations co-operate to try to find a solution.

Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who tragically lost their lives in French waters on Wednesday. The UK government is committed to intensifying all cooperation with our European partners to prevent these deadly journeys.

Connecting communities in all four nations of the union

Today Sir Peter Hendy has published our Union Connectivity Review on improving intra-UK transport connectivity, to bring communities across the country together as we build back better.

  • If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between every corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.
  • The Prime Minister has welcomed the proposal to create UKNET – a strategic transport network spanning the entire UK. UKNET will assess and map out for the first time the key points across the length and breadth of the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections.
  • This will help boost economic growth, support job creation and level up opportunity by expanding the transport system and creating quicker and easier travel for passengers, freight and businesses.

Music to start the weekend: Praeludium from Edvard Grieg's: Holberg suite

Quote of the day 26th November 2021


Development FInance

This week the Conservative government revamped our British development finance institution to deliver jobs and clean growth, as we build back greener from the pandemic and deliver on our pledges made at the COP26 Summit. 

  • Too many low and middle income countries have been laden with unsustainable debt – in need of a source of honest and reliable finance to drive clean growth and create wealth. 
  • That is why we are launching British International Investment (BII), which will help mobilise up to £8 billion a year of public and private sector investment in international projects by 2025.
  • This will create jobs and opportunities here in Britain, while also boosting economies across Asia, African and the Caribbean. It will help build a network of liberty across the world by building closer economic and development ties with our international friends and partners.

Football Review

This week the government has published the final recommendations of an independent Fan Led Review of Football Governance – securing the game’s long-term sustainability and future.

  • This independent review, chaired by Tracey Crouch, was formed in the firm belief that Britain's national game is at a crossroads – we must work together to build on its strengths and make the industry stronger and fairer. 
  • That is why the government set up, and has now published the final recommendations from, an independent fan-driven review, with contributions from more than 130 football clubs. The primary recommendation of the review is clear, and one the government has endorsed this in principle: that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.
  • The government has said that they welcome the work of the Review and will now consider the detailed recommendations ahead of providing a full Government response in Spring 2022.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thursday music spot: Voces8 sing Orlando Gibbons' anthem, "O clap your hands"

Tragedy in the Channel

The tragic loss of life in the channel yesterday was a terrible disaster which had been waiting to happen and had widely been predicted on all sides. The British and French authorities have agreed urgently to step up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings and stop the criminal gangs responsible. 

  • Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired an emergency COBR meeting to discuss the devastating situation. He also spoke with President Macron by phone, reaffirming the importance of working closely together to prevent these deadly crossings.
  • The Conservatives' new Plan for Immigration will overhaul Britain's broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom – committing to do everything possible to stop the criminal gangs responsible for putting people’s lives at risk.
  • Our thoughts are with the families of all of those who tragically lost their lives in French waters yesterday and Britain is committed to intensify all cooperation with our European partners to prevent these deadly journeys.

Putting an end to a barbaric practice

I don't know whether to be pleased that the medieval and degrading practice of "virginity testing" is finally being banned in the UK or horrified that up to now it has still been happening.

This week MPs unanimously voted to add to the Health and Social care bill a ban on this intrusive and "indefensible" practice, making it a criminal offence with a potential prison sentence of up to five years to offer, carry out or facilitate such "tests" including helping arrange for women or girls to be taken abroad for them.

Health Minister Edward Argar told the House of Commons the practice was "repressive" and caused "long-term physical and psychological damage".

The World Health Organisation says it is a violation of human rights and adds that the tests, thought to occur in at least 20 countries, cannot prove whether a woman or girl has had sex or not, as the hymen can be broken in other ways - such as through tampon use or exercise.

Aa BBC Newsbeat investigation last year found 21 clinics in the UK offering them, at a cost of between £150 and £300.

Mr Argar said the ban had been discussed with ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who all wanted to "ensure the whole of the UK together tackles this abhorrent practice".

Harper's Law

The government has confirmed that ‘Harper’s Law’ will be added to the statute book, giving emergency workers greater protection from violent criminals.

After the shocking and tragic murder of PC Harper in the line of duty in 2019, his family have been unwavering in their campaign to increase the protections for emergency workers against violent criminals.

That is why ministers have confirmed that parliament will be asked to add to current legislation an extension of mandatory life sentences to anyone who commits the manslaughter of an emergency worker on duty – including police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics – while carrying out another crime, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.

Conservatives are determined to make sure that punishments fit the severity of the crime, protecting our emergency workers and making sure those who seek to harm them feel the full force of the law.

Driving up standards in schools and colleges

Yesterday it was announced that universities will help drive up standards in local schools and colleges, as we improve students outcomes and level up the country.

  • The Conservative government is determined to level up the nation and ensure that children’s opportunities are not constrained by the areas in which they live.
  • So universities will now be invited to help drive up standards in local schools and colleges, while reducing dropout rates at university and improving progression into high paid, high skilled jobs. The government has also announced £8 million to remove barriers to post-graduate research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.
  • This will help to reduce the skills gap in disadvantaged areas – a key part of levelling up and improving people’s opportunities across the country.

A targeted boost to Universal credit

The Universal Credit boost for workers announced in the Autumn Budget came into effect this week, helping the lowest-income families in the country and making sure that work pays.

  • In the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor set out further plans to ensure that work pays and that those on the lowest-incomes are protected.
  • That is why we announced plans to cut the Universal Credit taper rate, and as of today, it has been cut by eight pence, from 63p to 55p. Combined with the £500 increase in the Work Allowance, this will help hard-working families in the run up to Christmas, and allow them to keep an additional £1,000 a year of what they earn. 
  • This will provide an important boost to the lowest-income families across the country, while making sure that work pays as we build back better.

Quote of the day 25th November 2021

“The only difference between Westminster and 'The Thick of It' is in 'The Thick of It' people don’t go round saying ‘this is just like something out of The Thick of It’ all the time.”

(From a post on the Guido Fawkes website this week.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Midweek music spot: Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

New Councils for Cumbria

This subject will not be of interest to everyone, but a useful resource for those who follow local politics is the "New Councils for Cumbria" website which has been set up by the existing councils to inform people about the progress of local government reorganisation (LGR).

Our existing County Council and the six districts will be abolished in April 2023 and replaced by two new councils which will be elected in May next year, initially to operate in shadow form and replacing the existing councils the following year.

One new council will serve the area currently covered by Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland councils and will be called "Cumberland council," while the other new council will serve the area currently covered by Barrow-in Furness, Eden, and South Lakeland and will be called "Westmorland and Furness Council."  

You can track the process of setting up the new councils and transferring services to them here.

Recruitment, Retention and Training in the NHS

The NHS is more than hospitals. It is nothing without the people who provide care. Many of the most challenging issues within our health service revolve around having enough properly trained professionals to deliver that care and all the other service areas which make up our NHS.

So I was very pleased when this week the government announced plans to put recruitment, training and retention of NHS staff – as well digital transformation – at the heart of the NHS in England, ensuring our health service is fit for the future as we build back better.

  • To ensure that our record investment in the NHS has a lasting impact, we must ensure that workforce planning and digital transformation is placed into the heart of the NHS. 
  • That is why the Conservative government has announced reforms to put the recruitment, training, and retention of staff, as well as digital transformation, at the heart of the NHS – including merging the bodies responsible for the education and training of the health workforce, such as Health Education England, Health NHSX and NHS Digital into NHSE/I.
  • These reforms will help patients benefit from the best possible care, with the right staff in place to meet their needs.

Quote of the day 24th November 2021


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index

There has been considerable debate over the last few weeks about ethical standards in Britain's public life.

As usual, all too many people seem to form their opinions on issues of ethical standards based not on a balanced overall view of the evidence but on what they want to believe - e.g. whether they agree with the politics of the people putting forward a position.

I think that both poles of opinion - anyone who thinks British public life is as pure as driven snow and anyone who thinks that Britain is a corrupt county - could benefit by looking at the website of Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign, and particularly at their latest Corruption Perception Index which attempts to assess and rank on an objective basis the perceived effectiveness of anti-corruption measures in every country. 

Britain scores 77% where 100% would indicate a totally clean society and 0% a completely corrupt one, which puts us 11th equal (along with Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.) out of 180 countries. Since 2012 Britain's score has risen three percentage points on this index.

To give you an idea of the range of outcomes, the counties which came first equal, New Zealand and Denmark, scored 88% while the countries with the worst scores, South Sudan and Somalia, came in 179th equal with 12%.

So this does give some support to the PM's statement that Britain is "not remotely a corrupt country" but it is no grounds for complacency. We should be aiming for 100%.

Transparency International points out here that even the 25 least corrupt countries in the world - of which Britain is one - have their own corruption challenges and all need to do better. We cannot afford complacency where ethical standards are concerned.

Indeed, I would argue that if anyone tells you that the political party they support, or their country, is completely free from corruption, that is itself a red flag - they will not necessarily be corrupt themselves but it indicates a dangerous degree of confirmation bias and complacency.

Tuesday music spot: another version of Chariots of Fire from the London Olympics opening ceremony

I am sure everyone who watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 will remember this performance of "Chariots of Fire." 

It was, of course, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and peformed by the London Symphony Orchestra - and Rowan Atkinson.

How not to write a headline

Two news headlines describing the same incident.

Manchester Evening News:

"Palestinian shot dead after holy site killing."


"Hamas gunman kills one Israeli, injures four others, in Jerusalem attack: police shoot dead assailant." 

 Always read the full story. Headlines can be very misleading.

The Health and Care Bill

 Last night MPs passed the Health and Care Bill in the House of Commons, taking the next steps towards ending the unpredictable and catastrophic care costs faced by thousands of people across the UK.

This bill addresses enormously difficult challenges. I do not think it is perfect or that any party has all the answers to the problems this bill seeks to solve. This government and future governments will need to come back to it. But I do think that this bill gets us forward compares with where Britain is today, and there is no doubt that the regime it brings in is more generous than the current one.

  • One in seven adults over 65 faces care costs over £100,000 over their lifetime – we are committed to delivering world-leading social care across the country through our comprehensive adult social care reforms.
  • We are putting an end to unpredictable costs by introducing an £86,000 limit on the amount people have to pay for their own care, making care affordable by introducing a more generous means test and protecting people’s assets with a daily cost of living limit that goes beyond what was proposed in 2015.
  • These reforms will mean that everyone is better off compared to the current system. More people will be supported with their social care costs, have greater certainty over what they need to pay and receive higher quality care.

Charging points for electric cars

The Prime Minister has announced that all new homes and buildings will be required to have electric charging points from next year, as we drive forwards with our green industrial revolution and create green jobs across the country. 

  • Britain is at a pivotal moment where we must adapt our economy to the green industrial revolution through massive investment in science and technology.
  • That is why we will require new homes and buildings, such as supermarkets and workplaces, to have electric vehicle charging points from next year – meaning up to145,000 extra charging points will be installed each year in the run up to 2030, when the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will end in the UK.
  • These world-leading regulations will help us to adapt to a more sustainable future, as well as creating green jobs across the country as we build back greener. 

Quote of the day 23rd November 2021


Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday music spot: the Gregorian version of "Chariots of Fire"

This version of the "Chariots of Fire" theme segues into "Conquest of Paradise" from the film "Gladiator."

Slightly surprising, but I think it works.

Watch out for frost and ice this morning

It's been quite a mild autumn to this point - this is a comparatively late date to have had to clear ice from the windows of my car for the first time as a winter approaches. But I had to do so with a vengeance this morning. The Met Office has been forecasting a significant drop in temperature this week and it looks like they were right.

So take care if you are travelling or up and about outside this morning.

Booster Jabs now available to everyone over 40

From today everyone over 40 in the UK will be invited to receive their booster jab, as we continue to strengthen our defences against the virus and urge people to come forward to get their jabs. 

  • Britain's historic vaccine programme has already delivered 14 million booster jabs across the UK, strengthening our defences against the virus and protecting the most vulnerable this winter. 
  • We are now entering the next phase of our vaccination programme and the government is inviting a million over 40's to come forward for their jab from Monday, with a further 1.5 million invitations expected in the coming weeks. 
  • This vaccination programme is providing vital protections against the virus and reducing pressures on our NHS, but protections can wane over time – keeping our defences strong is the best way to protect ourselves and loved ones this winter.

I rang 119 after the government announced that people can book their booster jab after five months since the second jab, and booked my booster injection for exactly six months after I had the second one. By getting jabbed I am protecting myself, my family, and my community, and I would strongly encourage everyone eligible to do the same unless they have a specific medical reason not to. 

  • If you have any concerns about whether you should take the jab, please discuss them with an appropriately qualified medical professional such as your GP or pharmacist. 

Quote of the day 22nd November 2021


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Protecting our world

The UK government has already acted to restrict the production and sale a number of single use plastic products. This week further plans were announced to ban more single-use, problematic plastics as Britain continues to build back greener from the pandemic and protect our natural word. 

  • Our world-leading Environment Act enables us to take tougher action on single-use plastics in England, but we must go further to fully eradicate the use of problematic plastics that pollute our natural world.
  • That is why we are launching a consultation into banning more problematic plastics, such as plastic cutlery and plates, meaning businesses and consumers will need to move towards more sustainable alternatives and consider how this move will be fair for consumers. 
  • Britain is leading the way in protecting our natural environment and these new plans represent the next major step in eradicating the use of problematic plastics as we build back greener. 

Making sure the NHS serves people of all races

Today the government has commissioned a review into racial bias in medical equipment, putting equality at the heart of our NHS and ensuring that everyone gets the health care they deserve.

  • The pandemic has brought the issue of potential bias in our health service to the forefront of people’s lives – advances in technologies and treatments should be benefitting everyone that uses our health service. 
  • That is why we are launching a review into potential racial bias in medical equipment, such as oximeters – to urgently find out more about the potential bias, including gender bias, in medical devices and what impact it is having on the front line and to patients of all backgrounds.
  • One of the founding principles of our NHS is equality and this review puts this founding principle at the forefront of our service. 

Music for "Christ the King Sunday" - Cantate Domino (Giuseppe Pitoni)

Today is the Sunday before Advent (a certain Christian festival for which material has been in the shops for months is finally beginning to appear over the horizon of most people's view of the not-too-distan t future.) 

It is officially known as the feast of Christ the King, and informally as "Stir Up Sunday" from the prayer after communion which begins "Stir up, O Lord, the hearts of your faithful people." 

So I thought I should post an appropriate anthem, and I found a forum on the internet for organists and choirmasters in which there was a discussion on what they were preparing for today. My favourite among those suggested was "Cantate Domino" (which is Latin for "Sing to the Lord") by Pitoni, performed here by the Christopher Wren singers.

Quote of the day 21st November 2021


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Teeside's Freeport open for business

Yesterday, the Teesside Freeport has opened for business, creating thousands of well-paid green jobs as we deliver on the promises of levelling up.

  • Leaving the European Union has given us the freedom to do things differently – and we are maximising those opportunities by opening eight new freeports to create jobs and drive investment across the UK.
  • Yesterday, the Teesside Freeport began operations, putting the region at the forefront of green energy, manufacturing and innovation while creating more than 18,000 highly skilled jobs and generating £3.2 billion for the local community over 5 years.
  • The Teesside Freeport is the first of eight new freeports across the UK that will generate prosperity and spread opportunity by driving trade and innovation as we level up every corner of the United Kingdom.

I was asked yesterday morning on BT Radio Cumbria what a Metro Mayor for Cumbria could deliver that our MPs couldn't. Our MPs in Cumbria are doing a good job but if you look at what the Mayor of Tees Valley has achieved in getting a freeport up and running and improvements to the airport - I believe that an elected Metro Mayor for Cumbria, working with our MPs and bringing local government together, could achieve even more.

Saturday music spot: G.F. Handel's Harp Concerto

Supporting the Arts and Britain's heritage

 The governmetn has announced a further £107 million to support 925 arts, heritage and cultural organisations through the third round of our Culture Recovery Fund, protecting jobs and supporting British culture. 

  • The Culture Recovery Fund has already supported over 5,000 institutions with £1.2 billion during the pandemic – but many organisations still need further support to get through the winter.
  • That is why the government has this week announced an additional £107 million of support for 925 organisations through the Fund, helping cultural institutions survive, protecting jobs and boosting local economies.
  • This funding will be a lifeline to regional theatres, local museums, independent cinemas and many more throughout the winter, bringing more culture to more places across the country.

Quote of the day 20th November 2021

"If you don't have time to get inoculated against a life-threatening disease, I suggest you may need to reconsider your work-life balance."

(Line spoken on satirical radio programme "The Now Show" this week in response to the suggestion tbat some people are too busy to get their flu jab or COVID-18 booster.)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Music to start the weekend: Bach's "Great" Fugue in G Minor

As previously discussed, you can imagine you are singing this to

"O Ebenezer Prout, you are a silly man
What on earth inspired your controversial plan
To give Bach fugues words
And make them all as wacky as you can ...."

Second quote of the day 19th November 2021

 "You're at Lindsey Hoyle at the moment"

Comment to me thus morning by a BBC Radio Cumbria presenter (who I won't name as it was a private conversation)  while we were checking whether she could hear me properly prior to this week's political review panel.

I took it that this reference to the Speaker of the House of Commons is currently  BBC speak for 'very much loud and clear!' (or perhaps a little bit too much so.)

First quote of the day 19th November 2021


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Thursday music spot: Wagner's - "Ride of the Valkyries" from "Die Walküre"

Integrated Rail Plan: £96 billion to level up railways across the North and Midlands

Now we do have the details of the Integrated Rail Plan: £96 billion to level up railways across the North and Midlands

The Conservatives were elected on a promise to level up and create better transport connections for our towns and cities now – we cannot afford to stick to outdated plans and wait decades to deliver the change needed.

That is why, through our Integrated Rail Plan, we are bringing forward the single biggest investment in the history of our rail network – £96 billion for the North and Midlands – which will improve everyday journeys for rail passengers, bring communities closer together, and create jobs – all ten to fifteen years sooner than previously planned.

Levelling up cannot wait – this Plan delivers on our promises to the North and Midlands now; with more punctual, frequent, and reliable journeys for people wherever they live.

Through our Integrated Rail Plan we will build three new high-speed rail lines:

1) The HS2 Western Leg from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester, with new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly. 

  • Journey times from Manchester to London will be cut by almost half – to just 1 hour 11 minutes. 
  • Journey times from Birmingham to Manchester will be cut by two fifths – to just 51 minutes. 

2) A new high-speed line from the West Midlands to East Midlands Parkway, meaning direct high speed rail services to Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, and Sheffield.

  • Journey times from London to Nottingham will be cut by over a third – to just 57 minutes. 
  • Journey times from Sheffield to London will be cut by a quarter – to just 1 hour 27 minutes.
  • Journey times from Nottingham to Birmingham will be cut by two thirds – to just 26 minutes.

3) A new high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire, forming the heart of Northern Powerhouse Rail, combined with upgrades on existing lines to deliver NPR services from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester.

  • Journey times from Liverpool to Manchester Piccadilly will be cut by a third – to just 35 minutes.
  • Journey times from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly will be cut by a third – to just 33 minutes.
  • Journey times from Liverpool to Manchester Airport will be cut by two thirds – to just 26 minutes.

We will also upgrade or electrify three existing lines:

  • Rapidly upgrading the East Coast Main Line, benefiting the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, bringing benefits to communities far sooner than originally planned.
  • Fully electrifying the Midland Main Line, beginning work by the end of this year to electrify a new section of the line between Kettering and Market Harborough.
  • Fully electrifying and upgrading the Transpennine Main Line, going well beyond previous plans, and improving journeys between Manchester and Leeds – even before the new high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail line opens.

In total, more than 75 per cent of the country’s main rail lines will be electrified, improving the journeys hundreds of thousands of people take every day by making them faster, quieter, more reliable and more environmentally friendly.

This Plan will free up funding so we can improve local services:

This will include a new mass transit system for Leeds and West Yorkshire, backed by £100 million to start work on the metro, righting the wrong that Leeds is the largest city in Western Europe without a mass-transit system. 

We will also look again at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds. A great deal of commentary in the media about this link being scrapped is oversimplified and premature.

The Prime Minister said "We'll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen."

The plan will also include 

  • Taking forward the western section of the Midlands Rail Hub, bringing fast intercity trains from South Wales and the South West to run to Birmingham Moor Street, for seamless interchange with HS2.
  • Rolling out London-style contactless ticketing across the North and Midlands, backed by £360 million ending queues and confusion as people automatically get charged the best fare, and rolling out of contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing to around 700 stations in urban areas, including around 400 in the North.

Our Plan delivers more benefits to more people, more quickly:

More benefits. With almost every destination benefiting from similar – and in several cases faster – journey times from London and across the North. Cities in the East Midlands will now also get direct HS2 services, making a journey from London to Nottingham 26 minutes faster than under the old plans.

More people. Having stood to gain little under previous plans, places like Huddersfield, Doncaster, Wakefield, Leicester, and Loughborough will now all benefit from improved services. Our plan also rolls out contactless ticketing, and kicks off work on a new West Yorkshire mass transit system. 

More quickly. Original proposals would have seen the first Northern Powerhouse Rail trains running in 2043 – our plan brings this forward by a decade, with significant improvements on the Transpennine Route before then. Electrification of the Midland Main Line will also start this year – with places like Sheffield and Chesterfield seeing the benefit in the next ten years, rather than in the 2040s.

Most of this post is about the positive things the government is doing, but it is only fair to ask - where does the opposition actually stand and what is their record?

Labour cannot credibly both oppose the whole HS2 project and then accuse the Conservatives of "betrayal" because we have not yet confirmed - and are looking again at - one spur of that project which was in the original plans. 

And yet the opposition leader previously said he opposed HS2 and that its impact would be ‘devastating’. He said

‘I oppose HS2 on cost and on merit: it will not achieve its stated objectives. The impact of HS2 on my constituency … will be devastating’.

So does he still take that position or does he agree with what his party's representatives have been saying today about the spur to leeds. It's a case of "pick one - you can't have both."

The last Labour Government electrified just 63 miles of track in 13 years – compared to 1,110 miles under the Conservatives so far. Labour did not find the money to make our railways fit for the twenty-first century. 

Under Labour, only 5,720 new train carriages were delivered – the Conservatives have delivered more than 8,000 in less time. Between 1997 and 2009, 5,720 new carriages were delivered. Between 2011 and 2021, we have already delivered 8,073 new carriages.

Today's announcement confirms £96 billion of investment in a massive upgrade to public transport in the North and Midlands. It is a great shame that is has been misreported as if this announcement was some kind of cutback.

The Integrated Rail Plan

Today the government is expected to announce details of a £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan to improve railways in the Midlands and the North, helping to level up the UK as we build back better.

  • If Britain is to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter most to people.
  • So today the government will announce the details of an Integrated Rail Plan – the biggest transport investment programme in a century – which aims to deliver the same, similar or better outcomes as the original HS2 proposals for nearly everywhere, but do at least ten years earlier than planned.
  • This morning the BBC and Labour politicians were denouncing the plan based on what they think might or might not be in it. It might be better to see what is actually announced first and then make an informed judgement.
  • What I am hearing is that this plan will deliver quicker and more meaningful transport connections for passengers across the country as we level up and build back better. Let's wait and see what is actually announced and then we can have an informed discussion.

Protecting women and girls in conflict zones.

This week the UK government launched a global campaign to tackle sexual violence in conflict around the world – as we continue to lead the way in helping women and girls everywhere to live without fear of violence.

  • In conflicts around the world women and girls continue to face horrific sexual violence, used as a weapon of war – with perpetrators acting with impunity.
  • That is why under Britain's G7 Presidency we will build on our world leading work to tackle violence against women and girls by hosting a global summit next year on preventing sexual violence in conflict. We are exploring an international convention to make sexual violence in war a red line comparable to chemical weapons and landmine use, and providing an extra £20 million in new funding to support global efforts to help women on the frontline.
  • This will continue our efforts to support women and girls across the globe to live without fear of violence, with access to education and employment, and the chance to reach their full potential.

Vaccination booster update

It has been announced this week that the vaccine programme is being extended to offer booster jabs to those aged 40 to 49 and second doses to 16 and 17 year olds

Government, the NHS and clinicians are urging everyone other than the small number of people affected by specific medical conditions or other treatment to get their jabs as soon as possible as part of the wall of defence we are building against this virus.

  • We know that immunity to Covid begins to wane after 6 months and new data shows that boosters give over 90 per cent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in adults over 50.
  • That is why the phenomenal vaccine programme is being extended on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – offering a booster jab to 40 – 49 year olds and offering a second vaccine dose to 16 – 17 year olds. The JCVI will keep under review whether the booster programme should be extended all people under 40. 
  • Everyone eligible should come forward for their first, second and top up jabs to protect themselves and their loves ones - reducing pressure on the NHS and helping us stop the spread of the virus
  • If you have any concerns about whether you or a member of your family should have the vaccine, please discuss it with an appropriately qualified medical professional.

Quote of the day 18th November 2021


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Latest employment figures

Figures released this morning reveal that the number of people in employment rose by 160,000 in October, with job vacancies and wages also rising – showing that the government's Plan for Jobs is helping businesses create more jobs. Conservatives understand - as the Labour party still does not - that it is businesses, not government, which creates the wealth which alone can provide the foundation for both private and public sector jobs.

  • As we move beyond the pandemic, it is time to give more priority to getting people back into work and helping businesses to thrive, and it is clear that our plan is working.
  • New figures released this morning show that the number of payroll employees rose by 160,000 in October and now stands at record levels, well above pre-pandemic – with the unemployment rate falling by 0.5 per cent and over 1.17 million job vacancies now available.
  • These statistics confirm that our Plan for Jobs is bringing economic security to millions of workers, more trade for businesses, and greater prosperity throughout the country.

The Kickstart scheme - latest progress

Latest figures released this week show that more than 100,000 young people have so far started new roles under the £2 billion Kickstart jobs scheme, giving them the skills, experience and opportunities they need to reach their full potential as we level up across the country.

  • Britain's future success depends on our young people, which is why the Conservative government introduced the Kickstart scheme in September 2020 to target young people at risk of long-term unemployment. 
  • More than 100,000 young people have so far started new roles under our £2 billion Kickstart jobs scheme, and an average of more than 3,400 young people started Kickstart jobs each week over the past month alone. The scheme was recently extended for young people to apply to jobs by March 2022, so young people on Universal Credit are being encouraged to speak to their Work Coach about some of the exciting roles on offer
  • This scheme is continuing to help young people to get the skills, experience and opportunities they deserve as we emerge from the pandemic and build back better.

The Liverpool hospital taxi bombing

Our thoughts are with all those affected by the awful incident in Liverpool on Sunday, which has now been declared as a terrorist incident

  • I am sure we all thank the emergency services for their quick response and professionalism, and the police for their ongoing work on the investigation.
  • The emergency services are working hard to establish what happened and it is right they are given the time and space to do so.
  • Following Sunday's shocking incident in Liverpool, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has raised the UK Threat Level to SEVERE.
  • It is important that the public remains alert to the threat from terrorism but not alarmed. We urge anyone with information or who suspects any suspicious activity to report it to the police.

Made in the UK, sold to the world

The government has announced a new ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the Word’ export plan, with our ambition to increase exports to £1 trillion by 2030 - helping British businesses sell their world class products around the globe.

  • The UK exported over £600 billion in goods and services last year, supporting 6.5 million jobs across the UK – but only around one in ten businesses currently export.
  • That is why the government has published a twelve point plan to boost our exports, including helping SME’s to find new export opportunities globally, making it easier for UK exporters to secure business from overseas buyers, and championing British goods and services abroad through new campaigns. 
  • More exports means more jobs, more opportunities and higher wages – helping to level up and build back better.

Midweek music spot: "I'm Still Standing" Taron Egerton as Johnny from the film "Sing!"

Quote of the day 17th November 2021

"No-one chooses which culture to be born into or can be blamed for how that culture evolved in past centuries" 

 (Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

November meeting of CCC's Copeland local committee

Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland met this morning (Tuesday 16th November 2021) at Cleator Moor town hall.

Full details of the agenda and papers for the meeting can be found on the county council website by following this link:

Agenda for County Council Local Committee for Copeland on Tuesday, 16th November, 2021, 10.15 am | Cumbria County Council

The main items discussed were:

I) A presentation from "Family Action" on the services they have been commissioned to provide to support children and families in Copeland

II) We approved the draft Highways budget for the forthcoming year

III) Also during the discussion on highways local members raised a number of local issues - for example I raised the delay fixeing the streetlights in Fairladies, St Bees.

IV) A number of grants were approved to local charities and projects. many of them using the local committee share of the government money from the "Contain Outbreak" fund to help communities recover from the impacts COVID-19.

V) Under nuclear issues the discussed local committee representation on the community partnerships reviewing the possibility of a Geological Disposal Facility of GDF for nuclear waste.

We passed two resolutions on the subject

a) the first, reiterating the local committee view that the County Council should take up representation on the partnerships, which has been offered, was passed nem con with all the Conservative councillors and one Labout councillor voting in favour and the other two Labour councillors who were present abstaining.

b) the second resolution called on the Leader of the council to apologise for likening the head of the process to a a "vexatious complainant" for daring to ask a second time if the council wanted to take up representation (after it had been accurately reported in the press that full council had passed a motion urging that this should happen.) The vote on this one went on party lines with the Conservatives voting in favour and the Labour councillors against.

I shall perhaps add that this was originally all one motion but seperate votes on the two parts of it were taken at my suggestion, so that the local Labour councillors would not be forced to vote against the first part, which they've hardly made any secret that they agree with, because party discipline would force them to vote against the second part.


Tuesday music spot: Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Mandolins in G major

Quote of the day Tuesday 16th November


Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 Mandolins

Climate conference recap

 The Prime Minister has welcomed the historic climate agreement secured at COP26 in Glasgow to keep 1.5 degrees alive and protect our planet for future generations. 

  • The nations attending COP 26 were asked to come together for our planet and to make history at COP26, they have answered that call – with an historic agreement to phase down coal and a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
  • The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever global agreement in which every country has signed up to phase down unabated coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel. It also delivers a plan to scale up support for developing countries to adapt to climate change – and requires countries to come back with stronger targets to cut emissions even more by the end of next year. 
  • This agreement builds on the progress made on coal, cars, cash and trees throughout the summit: 
  1. On coal. 65 countries have now committed to phasing out the use of coal power, and all major coal financing countries have committed to end international coal finance by the end of 2021.
  2. On cars. Over 30 countries and some of the world’s largest car makers committed to make all new car sales zero emission by 2040, and by 2035 in leading markets.
  3. On Cash. More finance has been mobilised to support climate action in developing countries than ever before – bringing us closer to the $100 billion annual climate finance target next year and ensuring we will exceed it after that.
  4. On Trees. More than 130 leaders, representing over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged at COP26 to end deforestation by 2030.

  • There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years – but we will look back on COP26 as the beginning of the end of climate change.

Keeping Britain's roads moving

New measures are expected to be put forward in Parliament today to crackdown on disruptive demonstrators, preventing them from endangering the lives and livelihoods of the hardworking majority.

  • Insulate Britain activists who have brought large sections of our major roads to a standstill are breaking the law – those who choose to pursue a path of anti-social, dangerous disruption should face the prospect of jail.
  • That is why the government will propose to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill so the police can tackle offenders who they suspect could be about to block or glue themselves to roads, trains, planes, and other vital infrastructure. Demonstrators who break the law could face six months behind bars and be slapped with an unlimited fine.
  • The right to peaceful protest does not include the right to wreak havoc on our roads, disrupt thousands of people’s journeys or put lives in danger.

Vaccine Update

Over 12 million people have received a third top-up jab, giving them vital extra protection as we approach the colder winter months. 

  • Britain's vaccine rollout has been a phenomenal success – but we know that immunity begins to wane after six months, which is why it is so important everyone eligible gets their booster jab.
  • New figures show that the booster programme is in full swing, with over 12 million booster and third jabs having now been administered across the UK – and we are making it even easier than ever for people to book a booster jab through the National Booking Service, which can now be done five months after people receive their second dose. 
  • Every effort is being made to roll out boosters as quickly as possible, giving vital protection to millions of people ahead of winter – if you are eligible, please come forward and get your jab.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

COP 26 final agreement

A historic climate agreement was reached at COP26 in Glasgow to keep 1.5 degrees alive and protect our planet for future generations. 

  • The UK government asked nations to come together for our planet and to make history at COP26, they have answered that call – with an historic agreement to phase down coal and a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. 
  • The Glasgow Climate Pact commits countries to phase down unabated coal, supports a just transition for developing countries and action to tackle loss and damage, agrees for the first time a common timeframe and methodology for national commitments on emissions reductions, and agrees that ministers will meet to review progress annually.
  • This agreement builds on the progress we have made on coal, cars, cash and trees throughout the summit: 

    • Coal. 65 countries have now committed to phasing out the use of coal power, and all major coal financing countries have committed to end international coal finance by the end of 2021.
    • Cars. Over 30 countries and some of the world’s largest car makers committed to make all new car sales zero emission by 2040, and by 2035 in leading markets.
    • Cash. More finance has been mobilised to support climate action in developing countries than ever before – bring us closer to the $100 billion annual climate finance target next year and ensuring we will exceed it after that.
    • Trees. More than 130 leaders, representing over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged at COP26 to end deforestation by 2030.

  • There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years – but we will look back on COP26 as the beginning of the end of climate change. Conservatives we will continue to work tirelessly towards that goal.

Remembrance Sunday music spot: "O Valiant Hearts"

Wishing Her Majesty the Queen a speedy and full recovery

I think we all know that if there had been any way that Her Majesty could have attended the Remembrance Commemoration today she would have, But it has been announced that she has sprained her back.

I am sure everyone in the country wishes Her Majesty a speedy and full recovery.

While the title of this essay has most unfortunately not aged well, it has a number of important insights which are still very much true.

Quote of the day for Remembrance Sunday 2021 - the Kohima epitaph