Friday, December 31, 2021

Farewell 2021: "Ring Out Wild Bells"

Top musical parodies number 6: Team Unicorn/Nerdists "All about that base"

As has already been noted there are a particularly large number of musical parodies based on the "Star Was" universe which range from the astonishingly good to the incredibly bad - the ideas which inspired the latter were sometimes worthy of better execution. 

Examples of the former which dserve an honourable mention include an excellent parody of "let it go" from Frozen, and more than one excellent parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody has, of course been a gift to writers of parodies for years, such as a version supposedly about Eric Cantona which replaced "Mama, I killed a man" with "Maman, I kicked a fan" to those which refer to the current coronavirus pandemic.

There are some very funny Star Wars takes on the Bohemian Rhapsody, such as this one which includes Darth Vader and Boba Fett singing "Jabba, just captured Han!", or this one, which has lines like 
"Boba Fett, Boba Fett, was your father named Jango?" and 
"Lord Palpatine has a dark suit put aside for me, for me, for me!"

There is another song yet to come which ticks every one of the boxes in the criteria I set out, but sixth on my list of top parodies is "All about that base" performed by Team Unicorn and produced by Nerdist, which is a parody of Meghan Trainor's "All about that bass," And here it is:


Target hit - all eligible adults have been offered a booster vaccine

If you have not yet had your booster, and this is not because you have had specific medical advice that you are one of the small minority who should not take the vaccine, protect yourself, your family and the NHS by getting the jab. If you are in any doubt, consult an appropriately qualified medical professional such as your GP.




 

Quote of the day 31st December 2021

"My favorite New Year's resolution was to stop trying to reason with unreasonable people. This has reduced both my correspondence and my blood pressure."

(Thomas Sowell, American economist)



Thursday, December 30, 2021

Put-down of the month

When your journalistic standards are missed so badly that the Sunday Sport can get away with this put-down ...

(Hat tip to Iain Dale on twitter)



Top parodies number 7;"Weird Al" Yankovic's "Fat" split screen with Michael Jackson's "Bad"

No good list of top music parodies can avoid including at least one or two from the King of parody, Al Yankovic. 

Here the official music videos for Michael Jackson's "Bad" is shown side by side with Al's parody of it, "Fat," to show the extreme lengths he goes to to get the parodies like the original - even using the same sets and employing the same extras. 

Watch this and you will never think of "Bad" the same way again!

Quote of the day 30th December 2021

"I was appalled to see Piers Corbyn and his mob threaten NHS test and trace staff who are working so hard to keep people safe. 

This kind of vile behaviour is unacceptable."

(Sajjid Javid, Health secretary)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Top music parodies number 8 - "Star Trekkin' across the Universe"

Those unfamiliar with the history of this may have trouble spotting it, but "Star Trekkin' across the Universe" is a heavily modified (and bowlderised) version of a parody of "I am the music man.

Back when I was at University I recall my student contemporaries singing "I am the Star Trek Man" which I understand had been written by Roger Kehoe for members of the Sealed Knot society, of which I seem to recall my friends who were singing it were members. 

It was sung to the tune of "I am the music man" and each verse began with the leader singing "I am the Star Trek man, I come from down your way, and I can play,"

Everyone else would sing out the question "Who can you play?" to which the reply was the name of a Star Trek character, followed by an appropriate line for that character such as
 
"We come in Peace - shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill!" for Captain Kirk or 
"It's worse than that, he's dead Jim, dead Jim, dead, Jim!" for Doctor McCoy.

And then everyone would sing together all the lines given so far. Not all the lines of the version I heard at university were suitable for a family audience - the lines concerned may have been improvised and added to Roger Kehoe's version. 

When The Firm brought  "Star Trekkin' across the universe" a couple of years in 1987, - and it reached No 1 in the charts - it had been substantially cleaned up and most of the obvious derivations from "I am the music man" removed, but enough of the remaining lines were identical to those in "I am the Star Trek Man" than I knew at once this was a version of the same song and this account in Wikipedia of the origins of the song supports that view.

The song was released with a claymation animated video, but this version below uses clips from the "Kelvin Timeline" Star Trek films.



"Star Trekkin' across the Universe" had to have a place on this list of top parodies as it was very popular - it spent several weeks in the UK charts including a couple at number one - and has stood the test of time, in that well over thirty years after it was top of the pops many people still remember it. 

But there was a serious challenge for the top "Star Trek" place on this list, and I must give an honourable mention to one which fans of Deep Space Nine will appreciate, "Trill all the klingons want," which is a parody of "Girl all the bad guys want."

Quote of the day 29th December 2021

"We'll be doing 'Thought for the day' next!"

(Line spoken of Radio 4's "The Archers" this evening after the script for the episode included a remarkably detailed, thought-provoking and accessible discussion about Theology.)


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Carol spot for Bank holiday Tuesday: Libera perform "Joy To The World"

Top 12 musical parodies No 9, "Stayin' Alive" (a COVID-19 Vaccine Parody of the Bee Gees original)

There are so many very clever musical parodies to watch on YouTube that all the items on my list of twelve had to fight hard for their places. Another honourable mention which at one point occupied this place in the list was the Barron Knights' Christmas song "Never mind the presents" which parodied three of the most popular songs of the time - Pink Floyd's "Another brick in the wall," and then "Day trip to Bangor" followed by "I'm only a poor little sparrow" while giving them all a Christmas spin.

However, I eventually decided that even more deserving of a place in the list was this American Healthcare pandemic version of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."  

Very topical, and perhaps more than any of the other parodies on this list this one includes three important messages - 
  • wear your mask, 
  • wash your hands, 
  • and above all, get your jabs - 
to which we should all listen if we want to go on Stayin' alive.

Quote of the day 28th December 2021

"JK Rowling has been speaking out for women's rights for some time now, but 2021 saw perhaps the ultimate betrayal. The Scottish author was banished from the 20th anniversary Harry Potter reunion.


"All this because Rowling has warned of the risks of replacing biological sex with a new concept of 'gender identity' that is self-identified and not medically verifiable. Rowling has not survived cancellation simply because she is fantastically wealthy (though it helps), but because it's actually quite difficult to convince normal people that the world's most beloved children's author is a bigot for believing that women are real. For this she has been accused of harming trans people, a despicable defamation that has not succeeded in silencing her as intended.


"Rowling is not only Woman of the Year but an inspiration to everyone who believes in free speech and reason. At a time when so many politicians and national institutions have been too cowardly to speak out, it has fallen to a novelist to show some backbone. That she has done so while going out of her way to make clear to trans people that she harbours no ill will towards them, and merely disagrees with the ideology of hardline activists, is all the more commendable."


(Stephen Daisley, nominating J.K.Rowling to be Woman of the Year 2021.)

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Twelve Parodies of Christmas number 11: Star Trek and Star Wars parodies

One thing that Star Trek and Star Wars fans have in common - and there are more than either will want to admit - is that both have spent a vast amount of effort assembling parody songs.

My list of the top twelve parodies was always going to end up including at least one or two Star Trek or Star Wars parodies or both, as several - particularly some of the professional ones - score very highly against the five criteria I set. 

A more difficult question was whether to include one of the very large number of Christmas parodies made by fans for either franchise. Some of the ideas are very funny but the execution - which often involves stitching together literally hundreds of clips from the shows or films - may have been very time consuming but does not always perfectly come off.

On the Star Trek side there have been multiple versions of "All I want for Christmas" such as this one (to which the answer was "Tea, Earl Grey, hot!") or of the Christmas song "Let it snow" with the words "Make it so" substituted for the refrain.

On the Star Wars side some of the parodies which have been produced include a parody of "Santa Claus is coming to Town" called "The Emperor is coming to town" - another is "I'm dreaming of a new Death Star." 

The Christmas song "Mary, did you know?" has inspired at least three Star Wars parodies including "Padme, did you know?" and "Vader, did you know?" and a third we will come to in a moment.

Having decided that I was indeed going to feature one of the christmas parodies I had some trouble deciding which one to pick.

After some thought I decided it had to be between the latest Star Trek version of "The twelve days of Christmas - and there have been a lot of these, some such as this one which are quite good - and the parody inspired by the Mandalorian Disney Plus series, "Mando, did you know" which if you have watched the first two seasons of "The Mandalorian" is laugh-out-loud funny.

Eventually I decided that because most of the humour in "Mando did you know?" would go right past even Star Wars fans who had not seen that particular show, I would have to come down in favour ot the last Star Trek version of the 12 days of Christmas which is this one



"Mando, did you know?" deserves, however, a "Runner up" honourable mention for this slot on the list.

The Irish Rovers sing a carol for 26th December (a.k.a. the Feast of Stephen)

Quote of the day 26th December 2021


 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The twelve parodies of Christmas, number 12 - LadBaby

As promised, over the twelve days of Christmas I am running a sequence of the best musical parodies.

My criteria for these parodies are 

1) Impossible to hear the original without thinking of the parody (special points if performers responsible for the original have said they found the words of the parody running through their mind during live performances of the original) 

2) The parody should be particularly funny 

3) A clever adaptation - the parody should sound as similar as possible or retain as many words as possible while completely changing the meaning 

4) Timeless - likely or known to be still funny decades later 

5) Topical - as an alternative to criteria 4) above, particularly appropriate to late 2021 or early 2022. 

I concluded that LadBaby, who have today set a record by having four consecutive Christmas number one hits (the previous record was three) had to feature on the list with their songs about sausage rolls put together for charity, deserved a place on the list for that achievement and on at least three of the above criteria, particularly number five. 

Here is their song for Christmas 2021, with Sir Elton John and Ed Sheeran, which is raising money for the Trussel Trust.



I can't make up my mind whether this qualifies as a parody, but their output as a whole certainly does: their first hit, "We built this city on Sausage rolls" is clearly a parody of "We built this city on Rock and Roll."



Number 11 in my list will be released tomorrow.

Her Majesty the Queen's Christmas Broadcast 2021

Christmas day carol:" O Come, all ye Faithful"

Quote of the day for Christmas Day 2021

Luke's gospel, chapter 2, verses 8 to 11:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

A Christmas message

For anyone reading this who is of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bahai faiths, May the God of Abraham be with you and all who you love at this time, guard, guide and protect you.

For anyone reading this who loves the Christmas story:

  • May the Joy of the Angels,
  • The Eagerness of the Shepherds
  • The Wisdom of the Magi
  • The Patience of Joseph
  • The Love of Mary
  • and the Hope represented by the baby Jesus

be with you this Christmas season and throughout the year


For anyone reading this of any other faith, may your God be with you at this time.


And for everyone reading this, I with you and your family good health and happiness at this time and a New Year 2022 which is better than 2020 or 2021 were for any of us.


In other words: HAPPY CHRISTMAS! 

Friday, December 24, 2021

A note of caution on Omicron

My social media feeds are full of people rejoicing about the evidence that the Omicron variant, while much more infectious than previous variants of COVID-19, puts a significantly smaller proportion of those who contract it in hospital. The different studies which I have seen quoted suggest rather different ratios for how much lower the percentage rate of hospitalisation is,  but we do seem to be seeing a consistent pattern of evidence that it will be lower.

I do not for a moment criticise people for being pleased about this because it is extremely good news. I am anxious, however, that we do not become complacent about the threat which this variant still presents to the NHS and to the economy.

We are in a very different situation compared with this time last year; some of those differences are helpful, some are not.

On the positive side, the vast majority if British adults have now had at least two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine and over 31 million have also had the booster. This should significantly reduce both the number of cases and the number of people who become seriously ill and, sadly, die as a result of COVID. 

On the negative side, even before the Omicron variant was identified, the NHS was already under more pressure than it has ever been. There were three reasons for this. 

  1. The least important, thought it was not zero, was the people in hospital directly because of COVID. In North Cumbria there were eight people in this category, four in each of the two main hospitals.
  2. The second reason was the usual winter crop of increased complaints
  3. The third and far and away the largest, was a huge bow-wave of legacy non-covid conditions from earlier in the pandemic: patients with issues which would normally have been picked up and treated in 2020 or earlier in 2021 who did not get treated earlier because of the pandemic but are presenting now. Many of these have waited far too long already and now need to be dealt with urgently.

The good news is that, because of the vaccination programme and because a lower proportion of patients with this variant need hospitalisation, Omicron will put far fewer people in hospital this winter than the Delta variant did last year.

The bad news is that because of the position the NHS is already in, Omicron does not have to put anything like as many people in hospital as Delta did to be a huge challenge to the NHS in January and February.

So we all need to keep up our guard: be very careful to minimise the sorts of social contact which might spread COVID and make sure we keep up to date with our jabs (Flu as well as COVID). 

We must not forget Tiananmen Square

This week the authorities at the University of Hong Kong removed a statue known as the "Pillar of Shame" which commemorates the Tiananmen Square massacre. This appears to have been due to pressure from the government in Beijing.












Attempts by governments to rewrite and suppress history are nothing new - it has been suggested that it may go back as far as five thousand years. The Ancient Egyptians certainly attempted it three and a half thousand years ago - for example, Pharoah Tutenkhamun is far better known today than he was for thousands of years because his reign fell during the so-called "Armana period" and a few years after his death his successor but one, Horemheb, attempted to wipe all record of that entire period, which had lasted a generation, from history.

After murdering his brother and co-ruler Geta, the Roman emperor Caracalla made the very mention of his name punishable by death. There is even a latin name for the practice of trying to wipe someone from history - damnatio memoriae. In more modern times tyrannical regimes whether fascist or communist in nature have also attempted it - and this act of vandalism in Hong Kong is only the latest example.

By definition, if any government had ever succeeded in an act of damnatio memoriae, we would not know about it, but we do know about a fair number of unsuccessful attempts.

As others have pointed out, the attempt by the Communist regime in China to destroy the memory of the massacre at Tiananmen Square is an act of weakness, not of strength. Whether I live to see it or not, I am convinced that there will come a day when the peoples of both Hong Kong and China will be free - and any attempt by their present rulers to suppress the truth about their history will only make their own reputation as future generations look back on the present day as history look less and less impressive.

There is a story that, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, a gestapo officer barged his way into the Pablo Picasso's apartment, pointed to a picture of the artist's mural "Guernica" and demanded

"Did you do this?"

and that the artist replied,

"No, you did!"

The creators of the "Pillar of shame" could make a similar riposte to the Chinese Communist Party.

The Prime Minister's Christmas message

A message to the vaccination teams:

This came from Charlie Mackesy on Twitter (retweeted by the Care Quality Commission)

Quote of the day for Christmas Eve 2021


 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Quote of the day 23rd December 2021

 "Just because he is clinically paranoid does not necessarily mean he's wrong"

(John Winterson Richards on Facebook this week.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Millions more doses of Antiviral drugs secured

Four and a quarter million doses of antiviral drugs have been ordered to protect people from the pandemic.

  • Two important deals have been brought forward to combat the Omicron variant and protect patients
  • Government urges all over 50s and most vulnerable to sign up to the national study as soon as they test positive for COVID-19

Millions more cutting-edge antiviral treatments for COVID-19 have been secured for NHS patients as the UK government signs 2 new contracts to help tackle Omicron.

The significant new deals have been accelerated following the emergence of the Omicron variant to protect vulnerable people over the coming months. The move will help reduce hospitalisations and ease pressures on the NHS.

Antivirals are treatments used to either treat those who are infected with a virus or sometimes protect exposed individuals from becoming infected. They target the virus at an early stage, preventing progression to more severe, or even critical, symptoms.

The 2 new contracts are for 1.75 million additional courses of Merck Sharp and Dohme’s (MSD) molnupiravir (Lagevrio®) and 2.5 million additional courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir (Paxlovid™) from Pfizer which will be available from early next year and are both expected to be effective against Omicron.

The 4.25 million courses are in addition to the procurement of 480,000 courses of molnupiravir and 250,000 courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir announced in October this year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:

"Our COVID-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it’s vital we further bolster our national response to the virus by ensuring access to the world’s best treatments too.

This is a mammoth deal for the UK government and for patients across the country that are set to benefit from these antivirals over the coming months.

If you’re aged 50 and over or have an underlying health condition and test positive for COVID-19, sign up to the study as soon as you can and take advantage of this remarkable treatment."

Molnupiravir is already being rolled out to hundreds of patients through the national study PANORAMIC, run by the University of Oxford in close collaboration with GP hubs. The government is urging everyone aged 50 and over, or between 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition, to sign up to the trial if they test positive for COVID-19.

Last week, deployment  of these antiviral drugs to those at highest risk began outside of the clinical trial – for example, people who are immunocompromised or cancer patients – after they’ve tested positive. And as of Monday the antibody treatment sotrovimab (Xevudy™) was also being made available to this group of patients.

You can read more details of these contracts here.

Midweek Carol - Ding! Dong! Merrily on High

COVID and Vaccination update -the target of a million jabs a day has been hit

 



















Quote of the day 22nd December 2021


 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Economist on Jordan Peterson and the Lobster

This month The Economist magazine has published a piece about the controversial Canadian acadmic Jordan Peterson, who is one of the most outspoken opponents of what is sometimes called "political correctness" and one of the most frequent targets of "cancel culture" and his encounter with a student dressed as a lobster.

The really positive thing about the article which refers to a "free speech" dispute at Cambridge University is that it illustrates that

  • supporters of free speech at universities are fighting back, and
  • it is sometimes possible for intelligent compromises to be reached which let people express their concerns without suppressing those of others.

You may have to register with the Economist site to read the article, but it is accessible here.

Quote of the day 20th December 2021


 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

More than 900,000 jabs delivered in England in one day

A record 906,656 jabs were delivered in England yesterday - including over 830,000 boosters.

It is fantastic to see so many coming forward to #GetBoostedNow, securing vital protection for themselves and their loved ones.

If we can keep up this vaccination rate it will be our best hope of limiting the damage - directly to people's health, and indirectly to health with respect to other physical conditions, to mental health and to the economy and people's jobs and businesses - caused by Omicron.



The fight against crime

This week the government announced a £1.1 billion funding package to cut crime and deliver safer streets – supporting the delivery of our Beating Crime Plan as we build back safer.

  • With over 11,000 extra police officers already on our streets, crimes including burglary and theft are already down – but we must do more to deliver safer streets and beat crime.

  • That is why we are going further and faster to beat crime, delivering an extra £1.1 billion in funding to support our police forces - a 7 per cent cash increase on last year which will bring funding for policing up to £16.9 billion in total in 2022/23.

  • Reducing crime should be a vital priority for any government and Conservatives are committed to working with police leaders to ensure this unprecedented investment results in less crime and fewer victims.

Quote of the day 19th December 2021

 "If you can't say what you think, soon you won't be able to think."

Jordan Peterson, quoted in the Telegraph on cancel culture in Universities.

A fuller version of the quote:

“If you can’t say what you think, soon you won’t be able to think, because mostly we think in words”.

“Herein lies the real danger of cancel culture, particularly at universities, whose primary function is arguably to nurture thoughts and help students learn to think for themselves: “The issue is there is no distinction between free speech and free thought. And there’s no thought without free thought. Thought by its nature is either free or it doesn’t exist.” 

“This isn’t a battle for some right. This is a battle for the heart of universities.”

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Levelling up schools

The Conservative government is providing further funding to level up education – with a £4 billion cash boost for schools across England, delivering on our commitment to level up education across the country. 

  • Every child deserves an excellent education and the chance to fulfil their potential, no matter where they come from in the country.

  • That is why we are increasing funding to school budgets in England with an extra £4 billion of support – including £1 billion for SEN pupils – boosting funding by 5 per cent per pupil in real terms.

  • This significant increase, taken alongside our ambitious education recovery plan, is levelling up education and supporting every young person to catch up and ensure they have the skills they need to thrive and succeed.

Comment policy

I have reviewed my comments policy for this blog today and have again decided to continue comment moderation for the time being.

I operated without comment moderation for a number of years, but turned it back on on 30th July following a nasty comment on an obituary post,

I adopted a strict rule a few years ago when a previous critical comment was made on an obituary post, which caused grief and offence to the family of the person who had died, that I do not allow negative comments on obit posts. It is common for the family and friends of people who have died to look at the internet and see what has been said about the deceased and I was determined never to allow my blog to be used to hurt innocent people in that way again.

Most people have respected that rule, which is why I was able for the last few years to comply with a request from a regular reader and poster to turn off comment moderation.

However, in July someone who presumably thinks he or she is funny put a nasty comment on an obit post. Sadly therefore the individual concerned put me in a position where I felt that the least worst option was to turn comment moderation back on. 

It remains my general policy that if someone is trying to make a constructive argument, is not being deliberately nasty, and the post is not offensive or putting me at risk of legal action, I will usually allow it to go up even if I disagree with it. 

I say "usually" because I will admit to one or two exceptions. In particular, during the duration of the pandemic I have been thinking very carefully about whether to allow posts critical of the vaccination programme if these contain information I believe to be false or appear likely to give aid and comfort to those seeking to undermine the programme.

Vaccine hesitancy is a threat to the NHS and people's lives and I am not publishing anti-vaccination myths even if the person posting them has been polite and has the best of intentions. As the saying goes, the right to free speech does not include the right to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre.

I don't pretend that there is no tension here between my belief in free speech within the law and the challenge which confronts me when someone comes out with something which I believe to be not only misguided but dangerous. But, unlike, say those who try to "no platform" speakers at Universities, I am not demanding that people who want to express views I disagree with should be banned from doing so or that people who want to hear those views be prevented from hearing them, I merely decline to repeat or promote those views myself. 

And in terms of the way views are expressed: I don't publish comments which are clearly intended to be insulting, nasty, offensive, which are potentially actionable, or which are otherwise not constructive. 

If you want to put up the kind of material I have explained in this post that I won't allow on this one, start your own blog.

Saturday music spot: The Shepherd's Pipe Carol by John Rutter

Next year's council funding settlement

The forthcoming year's financial settlement for councils has been announced, providing a £53.9 billion funding boost to local councils in England – levelling up communities across the country and supporting authorities with the resources they need.

  • Councils play a major part in delivering for their communities across the country and play a central role in our mission to level up. 
  • That is why we have announced a £53.9 billion funding boost for councils – including more than £1 billion to support adult social care – in the largest cash-terms increase in grant funding for 10 years, whilst at the same time protecting residents from sharp rises in council tax.
  • This is vital to our levelling up mission as we build back better from the pandemic, as well as helping local councils to deliver key front-line services for their communities. 

Reviewing human rights in Britain

The government has announced a consultation into proposals to reform the Human Rights Act - delivering on our commitment to restore confidence in the justice system.

  • Restoring confidence in the criminal justice system is vital for delivering justice in the UK.
  • That is why the government has published our consultation into the Human Rights Act – which will include measures to stop the use of certain rights to frustrate the deportation of criminals, will reduce the burden on local authorities and assert the primacy of UK law over the Strasbourg court.
  • Our plans will strengthen typically British rights like freedom of speech and trial by jury, while preventing abuses of the system – delivering justice to victims and British families. 

Quote of the day 18th December 2021

 


Friday, December 17, 2021

Trade deal signed with Australia

As a sovereign trading nation, Britain is able to be open to the world, tread our own path, and forge new and deeper relationships.

Britain has now used this freedom to sign a historic trade agreement with Australia, our first ‘from scratch’ since leaving the EU, setting new global standards in digital and services, creating new work and travel opportunities for British and Australian people, and unlocking over £10 billion worth of trade.

Signing this historic agreement will bring a boost to our economy and increase wages for workers across the country, helping us to level up every corner of our nation.

This trade deal with Australia is bringing a boost to the whole of the UK by:

  • Eliminating all tariffs on our imports and exports to Australia, bringing greater trading opportunities to British businesses. The deal removes tariffs on all UK exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic British products like cars, whisky and UK fashion to Australia, while making Australian favourites like Jacob’s Creek and Hardy’s wines, Tim Tams, Vegemite and surfboards cheaper for British consumers.
  • Unlocking over £10 billion of additional trade, opening new doors for British businesses and boosting British wages. This deal gives UK businesses guaranteed access to bid for an additional £10 billion worth of Australian public sector contracts per year, putting them on an equal footing with Australian companies.
  • Making it easier for people to travel between the UK and Australia, strengthening the historic ties between our two countries. Under the agreement, British people under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia more freely, opening up exciting opportunities for young people.
  • Providing greater access to visas for UK service suppliers, creating new work opportunities for British and Australian people. For the first time UK service suppliers including architects, scientists, researchers, lawyers and accountants will have access to visas to work in Australia without being subject to their skilled occupation list. This is more than Australia has ever offered any other country in a free trade agreement.
  • Supporting emerging British industries, helping to create a more sustainable future. In 2019 Australia was the largest producer of lithium and the third largest producer of cobalt, which are used in electric vehicle batteries. This deal will fully remove tariffs on these products on day one of the agreement coming into force, making it cheaper to produce electric vehicles. 
  • Protecting and supporting British farmers, so they can benefit from new trading opportunities. British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Building on our bid for UK membership of CPTPP, one of the largest free trade areas in the world. This deal is a gateway into the fast-growing Indo-Pacific region and will boost our bid to join CPTPP, a free trade area covering £8.4 trillion of GDP and 11 Pacific nations from Australia to Mexico.
  • Delivering for every part of our Union, levelling up and creating opportunity across the country. The deal will play an important role in levelling up the UK, delivering benefits for towns, cities and rural areas throughout the country. It is expected to increase trade with Australia by 53 per cent, boost the economy by £2.3 billion and add £900 million to household wages each year in the long run.
  • Signing the first major trade deal from scratch since we left the EU, showing the opportunities we now have as a sovereign trading nation. We have already secured 70 trade deals plus the EU worth almost £900 billion into law – but our trade deal with Australia is the first one negotiated from scratch, showing how we can use the new opportunities available to us outside of the EU to deliver for the British people.

This builds on the steps we have already taken to boost Global Britain:

  • Securing 70 trade deals plus one with the EU, signaling to the world we are once again a sovereign free trading nation. Our historic Trade Act allows us to put the agreements we have struck as a newly independent twenty-first century trading nation into law. For the first time in almost 50 years, the interests of the British people and their businesses’ can be put first in our trade agreements.
  • Formally launching accession negotiations to join CPTTP, giving UK businesses access to one of the world’s largest free trade areas.  Joining CPTPP – a partnership worth £8.4 trillion – would remove tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between us and the eleven other member states, and would put the UK at the centre of a network of free trade deals with fast-growing markets and major economies in the Asia-Pacific.
  • Securing an excellent deal with the EU, delivering on what the British people voted for. As promised, we have taken back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries – and ended any role for the European Court of Justice. It is the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas the EU has ever agreed, meaning businesses and people are able to continue to buy goods from Europe tariff-free.

Cutting crime

The government has announced a £1.1 billion funding package to cut crime and deliver safer streets – supporting the delivery of the Beating Crime Plan and aiming to build back safer. 

  • With over 11,000 extra police officers already on our streets, crimes including burglary and theft are already down – but we must do more to deliver safer streets and beat crime. 
  • That is why we are going further and faster to beat crime, delivering an extra £1.1 billion in funding to support our police forces - a 7 per cent cash increase on last year which will bring funding for policing up to £16.9 billion in total in 2022/23.
  • Reducing crime is our top priority and we are committed to working with police leaders to ensure this unprecedented investment results in less crime and fewer victims.

Archbishop Welby on the BBC

It is not common for anyone involved in politics to say anything nice about the bishops. Left - wingers often see them as part of the establishment, while some conservatives are convinced, not always correctly, that many church leaders are soggy socialists, 

I once had occasion to point out to a colleague that when he had been decorated for pulling one of his men from a blazing tank under heavy enemy fire, he might be in a position to question the courage of someone who had. (The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, had been awarded the Military Cross while serving in the Scots Guards for doing precisely that.)

I do not always agree with the establishment of the Church of England or any other church - and that's not always because I am more (small c) conservative than they are either. Nevertheless, I thought that the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a very good performance this evening in an online discussion/interview with a number of BBC journalists.

Archbishop Welby made some important points but what particularly impressed me, given the need for the church to be inclusive and appeal to all people, was the manner in which he responded when the journalists tried to lead him into making comments which would have been reported and seen as partisan point scoring. He responded by going back to the bible and reminder his interlocutors of  how Jesus responded when invited to condemn someone

He then gave a masterclass in how to avoid being drawn away from that position and into making the points which would have given the journalists the story they were looking for. He was of course, following in exactly the steps of the founder of the Christian church - Jesus had proved extremely adept at avoiding attempts to trick him into getting himself in trouble with dangerous questions like "is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar?" 

I thought it was Archbishop 3, hacks nil.

Half of UK adults have now had their booster jab

 


Carol to start the weekend: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Armed Forces Act recieves Royal Assent

This week the our Armed Forces Act received Royal Assent – improving access to key public services as we support those who risk their lives for this country. 


  • Our Armed Forces risk their lives for this country and it is vital that we recognise the sacrifices they have made by ensuring that they are not disadvantaged when accessing key public services.  
  • That is why the Armed Forces Act – which this week received Royal Assent – enshrines the Armed Forces Covenant into law, improves the Service Justice System, and increases access to services like healthcare, education and housing for serving personnel, veterans, and their families. 
  • This Act builds on the progress which the Conservatives have already made improving the lives of Armed Forces personnel – which is no less than they deserve after risking their lives for this country.

Children's Social Care

The government has announced new mandatory national standards for children’s social care accommodation – rooting out bad practice as we level up outcomes for those most in need.

  • Excellent children’s social care has never been more vital – we cannot, and will not, accept poor quality or unsafe accommodation for children in our care.
  • So the Conservative government is why we are introducing new mandatory standards to improve the experience of children in social care – providing better supported accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds, introducing new accountability from Ofsted, and delivering the biggest increase in places at new or refurbished children’s homes since 2010. 
  • These reforms represent a new chapter for children’s social care, which alongside the ongoing independent review, will level-up outcomes for those most in need.

Quote of the day 17th December 2021


 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Testing, testing ...

The government has announced plans to work with Royal Mail to double the UK’s testing availability – ensuring the British people have access to Covid-19 tests to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

  • The UK testing programme is the biggest in Europe, but we know that demand for tests is growing further with the arrival of the Omicron variant.
  • That is why the UK government has have announced a collaboration between the UKHSA and Royal Mail to expand our testing distribution – by Saturday 18 December, 900,000 PCR or LFDs will be delivered to homes each day, more tests will be available in local pharmacies, and – from today – we will increase booking at PCR testing sites by up to 100,000 slots.
  • It is vital we all play our part in the national effort to tackle Omicron by getting tested if we have symptoms and using LFDs daily if we’re a close contact of a case.

Thursday music spot - Get that jab and go!

This alternative sea shanty was of course released some months ago to support the original vaccination programme, 

However, everything in it is just as relevant to the Omicron Emergency boost campaign.

Get Boosted Now

I make no apology for repeating this message - if you have not already done so, and are not one of the very small number of people who have a specific condition or are receiving other treatment which makes you one of those who should not take the jab, please protect yourself, your family, your community and the NHS by booking your vaccinations.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister held a press conference urging everyone to get boosted now – to protect themselves and others against Omicron.

  • The Omicron variant is spreading extremely fast in the UK – yesterday we recorded the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and the doubling rate in some areas is now down to less than two days.
  • We know that two vaccine doses, while they do provide some immunity, are not enough to give maximum sufficient protection against Omicron – getting a booster jab reduces your risk of catching the Omicron by three quarters and is more important than ever. 
  • That is why the government launched the Omicron emergency boost – a national mission to give every eligible adult the chance to get their booster before the new year, and as of yesterday, every eligible adult can now use the national booking service to book their booster jab – with a record 650,000 boosters delivered on Tuesday alone.
  • The message to everyone is get boosted now – to protect yourself, your friends and your family against this new variant.

Latest jobs figures

Figures released this week show that the number of people in employment rose by 257,000 in November, with job vacancies and wages also rising – showing that the government's Plan for Jobs is working. 

  • As we Build Back Better, our priority is getting people into well-paid, high skilled jobs, and helping businesses to thrive. 
  • The latest figures show that the number of payroll employees rose by 257,000 in November and now stands at record levels, well above pre-pandemic – with the unemployment rate falling by 0.4 per cent over the last quarter, and over 1.22 million job vacancies now available.
  • This shows that our Plan for Jobs is working - bringing economic security to millions of workers and greater prosperity throughout the country as we Build Back Better.

Britain's national cyber strategy

The government has announced a new National Cyber Strategy - investing a record £2.6 billion into UK science and technology and securing our position as a leading cyber power. 

  • Cyber security is fundamental to our future national security and to strengthening our defences – our integrated review, published earlier this year, set out how we are building on our cyber capabilities
  • That is why the government is we are investing a record £2.6 billion into cyber as part of Britain's national cyber strategy, which will set out how we are solidifying our position as a global cyber power. This investment includes £114 million for the National Cyber Security Programme and a new National Cyber Force based in Lancashire. 
  • This will help us to advance our nation in cyber space and protect UK interests in a rapidly evolving online world.  
  • It will also help protect all of us from having our assets stolen or our health damaged by the actions of cyber criminals. In Cumbria the organisations which have been affected  by cyber attack include the NHS and Copeland Council - and we all know from the deluge of emails and calls we get from fraudsters that we are all under constant attack from cyber crooks looking to steal our money. Putting in place  better electronic security makes us all less likely to find our savings or other assets have been stolen.

Quote of the day 16th December 2021


 

Polling Day

Today is polling day in the North Shropshire by-election.

I have been very impressed with the Conservative candidate Doctor Neil Shastri-Hurst, who has served his country both in the army and as an NHS doctor and who I think would be a huge asset to the House of Commons. If anyone reading this from North Shrophire has not yet decided how to vote, I would encourage you to vote for Neil.

There are also by-elections for four council seats in three wards of Workington Town Council

Good luck to Chris Richards in Salterbeck ward, Jacqueline Kirkbride in Stainburn, Mike Davison and Rebecca Newton in St John's ward. 


Polls are open until 10pm





Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Another vaccination record

Yesterday a record 656,711 booster jabs were administered over the UK - a fantastic result which will make us all safer against Omicron.




All UK adults can now book their booster jab

From this morning all adults over the age of 18 can book their booster jab, as we continue to rapidly expand our vaccination programme to strengthen our defences against Omicron this winter.

  • The Omicron variant is extremely transmissible, and while vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced against Omicron with just two doses, a third dose boosts protection back up to over 70 per cent.
  • That is why from today all adults can book their booster jab on our National Booking Service as we continue to rapidly rollout our booster jab programme. We have also removed the remaining countries from the travel Red List following our review of our travel restrictions, while maintaining testing requirements pending a review in early January.
  • The single most important thing that every person can do is Get Boosted Now to protect yourself, your friends and your family, and our way of life.

Quote of the day 15th December 2021


 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Record number of booster jabs booked!

More than 650,000 people came forward yesterday to book their booster jabs - a record number of vaccinations booked in one day.


 

Call for volunteers

The Chief executive of the NHS and the Prime Minister have jointly issued a call for volunteers to come forward and join our mission to get as many jabs in arms this winter – as we urge all adults to get boosted now. 

  • Reaching our ambition of offering every eligible adult a booster jab before the new year is a national mission and we will need volunteers to help us achieve something on this scale. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister and the NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, joined forces to issue a rallying cry for volunteers to come forward and support our booster campaign, working alongside our GPs, doctors and nurses to deliver these crucial booster jabs.  
  • Vaccines remain our best defence against the virus which is why everyone is immensely grateful to our volunteer services and brilliant NHS who are leading our national mission – please, volunteer where you can and help us turbocharge our national mission this winter. 

Cracking down on benefit fraud

The government has announced a £510 million crackdown on benefit fraudsters, protecting honest taxpayers’ money that funds essential public services.

  • Despite preventing at least £1.9 billion of fraud during the pandemic, some criminals took advantage of the government's commitment to make sure that people could access support where it was needed to put in fraudulent claims.
  • That is why the government investing £510 million to crackdown on benefit fraudsters and recover taxpayers’ money. 2,000 trained specialists will be recruited to review benefit claims, carry out property checks, follow up earning declarations, and cross-check bank details.
  • Anyone trying to abuse the benefits system and con the taxpayer will be caught out as this crackdown protects honest taxpayers’ money and the funding of our public services.

Quote of the day 14th December 2021


 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Rapid testing to replace self-isolation

It has been announced that daily rapid testing for the fully vaccinated will replace the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for ten days, taking proportionate and practical steps to limit the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives.

  • The Omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the UK and is expected to become the dominant strain by mid-December.
  • That is why from Tuesday 14th December, people who are fully vaccinated and identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19 should take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for seven days, replacing the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for ten days.
  • This is a proportionate and practical steps will limit the impact of the virus on people’s day to day lives while helping to reduce the spread of Omicron and giving people more time to get their booster jabs.

The Omicron Emergency Boost - all eligible UK adults to be offered a booster by 31st December.

The Prime Minister has announced a national mission to offer every eligible adult their booster before the New Year, protecting friends, family, and our NHS.

  • We are now facing an emergency in our battle with the Omicron variant, which is doubling every two to three days in England, and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe.
  • Early analysis of Omicron cases shows that two vaccines alone are less effective at stopping the new variant, but a third booster prevents around 75 per cent of people getting any symptoms.
  • That is why the government is launching the Omicron Emergency Boost, a national mission to offer every eligible adult their booster before the New Year. We are deploying 42 military planning teams across the UK to set up additional vaccine sites and vaccination clinics will extend their opening hours. Additionally, work from home guidance comes into effect today.

Everyone should Get Boosted Now to protect yourself, your friends and your family, as well as our NHS, and our community.

If you don't like the idea of government restrictions on our freedoms, and you have not already done so, the best way to avoid those restrictions is to have your jabs.

There are a very small minority of people who for genuine medical reasons should not have the COVID vaccinations. If you are one of those you will probably already have been advised but if you are in any doubt, discuss the matter with a qualified medical professional such as your GP.

The most effective thing we can do to protect the small minority who have a valid reason not to take the vaccination is for everyone else to do so.

Afghanistan

The current situation in Afghanistan presents all manner of impossible decisions with no right answer.

Over the past twenty years, at the cost of a substantial amount of money and far too many irreplaceable lives, the West attempted to build a viable nation. This was not entirely without positive results - the country has not been used as a base to commit terrorist atrocities in the rest of the world since 2001 and a generation of Afghan women grew up with rights and access to education and healthcare.

However, all those efforts were undercut because the elected government of Afghanistan proved to be an incompetent kleptocracy for which almost the only argument in its defence was that the unstable coalition of brain-dead barbarians which replaced it faster than anyone thought possible when Western troops pulled out was obviously going to be, and is, even worse.

We now have the situation where an entire country is in serious danger of mass starvation, and although the primary reasons for this are the corruption and incompetence of the previous Afghan government and the dangerous lunacy of the present one, the Western powers which were propping up that previous government cannot avoid our share of responsibility.

Nor can we afford to give aid in forms which might be co-opted to support terrorist campaigns.

In this impossible situation the UK government announced yesterday that  Britain will provide £75 million of emergency aid to 1.8 million Afghans, saving lives, protecting women and girls and supporting stability in the region.  

  • As winter descends, Afghanistan has been crippled by drought, conflict and an economic crisis, creating a serious risk of migration, regional instability and humanitarian crises.
  • That is why the UK has promised £75 million of emergency aid to provide over 1.8 million people in Afghanistan with life-saving food, emergency health services, shelter, water and hygiene services. The funding will be channelled through a range of organisations including the UN and World Food Programme.
  • The UK is leading the way on the response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and these funds will save lives, protect women and girls and support stability in the region.

Quote of the day 13th December 2021


 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

GB News

I spent part of last week in Birmingham for work reasons. This was not in breach of government advice to work from home if possible, that advice was not issued until after I had arrived in Birmingham and does not come into effect until tomorrow.

Looking for a news channel in my hotel during the visit, I was unable to find the BBC news 24 channel which I usually watch, but did find GB News which we cannot get in West Cumbria. So I thought I would watch it to see what the fuss is all about.

Any Conservatives who want GB news to do well in the hope that the channel will give the government an easy ride would appear to be doomed to disappoinment - if anything most of the commentators on the channel seem to be even more hostile than those on the other channels.

What was different was the direction of the criticism - much if not most of it came from exactly the opposite direction that you get from much of the rest of the media. Instead of the lazy and stereotypical depiction of Boris Johnson as some sort of far-right Trump figure he was routinely slammed as a nig spending empire-builder who isn't conservative or libertarian enough. Admittedly some of that criticism was a bit lazy and stereotypical too.

I think it is a good thing that this channel is in the news mix. I don't agree with either the depiction of Boris as some kind of far-right Trumpian extremist or the idea that he is a big-state authoritarian and neo-socialist.

But both are points of view that some people hold, and anyone who thinks about politics with the awareness that both of those criticisms are being made is likely to come to a more balanced and accurate appraisal of the achievements and failures of this government - and all administrations get some things right and some things wrong - than someone who imagine that the only viewpoint to judge the government is that of the groupthink which too often pervades most of the rest of the media.

What are your favourite musical parodies?

I will be running a series of posts on my blog over the twelve days of the Christmas season - from Christmas day to 12th Night - about the twelve best musical parodies.

My criteria for these parodies are

    1) Impossible to hear the original without thinking of the parody (special points if performers                     responsible for the original have said they found the words of the parody running through their             mind during live performances of the original)

    2) The parody should be particularly funny

    3) A clever adaptation - the parody should sound as similar as possible or retain as many words as             possible while completely changing the meaning

    4) Timeless - likely or known to be still funny decades later

    5) Topical - as an alternative to criteria 4) above, particularly appropriate to late 2021 or early 2022.


If anyone would like to nominate a musical parody for my list which you think scores highly on one or more of the above criteria, put something in the comments or drop me an email or IM before 23rd December 2021.

 

When an argument is taken too far

Until today I had been quite concerned about the allegations that there were Chrsitmas Parties in Number ten and other government buildings last christmas.

It is essential that the same rules and laws apply, and are seen to apply, to everyone - we cannot have one rule for the people who work at the heart of government and a different rule for the rest of us.

I thought - and still do think -  it was essential that the country's senior civil servant has been asked to check what was going on in Number Ten on the dates mentioned by the BBC.  There cannot be one rule for the people who work in government and another for everyone else.

There needs to be transparency about what actually did happen, 

However, the BBC did not allege that the PM attended the party which they say took place on 18th Decembet - indeed they reported that he wasn't there. Facebook posts and a report in the local Bolton newspaper posted on that day suggests that in fact the PM was 200 miles away visiting the Openreach training centre in Bolton.

Some pictures have come out today showing the PM taking part in a virtual quiz over Zoom - if that's the best evidence Keir Starmer and the Mirror have of him taking part in any breach of COVID-19 regulations they have lost the plot and taken the issue way beyond the evidence. They will have nobody but themselves to blame if people stop taking their allegations seriously.


regarded

Psalm of the month: Psalm 22, "My God, my God, look upon me"

This psalm, which according to tradition was written by King David some three thousand years ago, was almost certainly what Jesus was quoting when he called out from the cross “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” just before he died. 

Some of the verses of this psalm, such as verses 7, 8, 17 and 18, still make me sit up and blink at how closely it foreshadows His crucifiction.



MY God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me? 
 and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?
2 O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; 
 and in the night season also I take no rest.
3 And thou continuest holy, 
 O thou Worship of Israel.
4 Our fathers hoped in thee; 
 they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They called upon thee, and were holpen; 
 they put their trust in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But as for me, I am a worm, and no man; 
 a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn; 
 they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying,
8 He trusted in the LORD, that he would deliver him; 
 let him deliver him, if he will have him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of my mother's womb; 
 thou wast my hope, when I hanged yet upon my mother's breasts.
10 I have been left unto thee ever since I was born; 
 thou art my God even from my mother's womb.
11 O go not from me; for trouble is hard at hand, 
 and there is none to help me.
12 Many oxen are come about me; 
 fat bulls of Bashan close me in on every side.
13 They gape upon me with their mouths, 
 as it were a ramping and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; 
 my heart also in the midst of my body is even like melting wax.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my gums, 
 and thou bringest me into the dust of death.
16 For many dogs are come about me, 
 and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me.
17 They pierced my hands and my feet: I may tell all my bones: 
 they stand staring and looking upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, 
 and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD; 
 thou art my succour, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, 
 my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion's mouth; 
 thou hast heard me also from among the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy Name unto my brethren; 
 in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 O praise the LORD, ye that fear him: 
 magnify him, all ye of the seed of Jacob; and fear him, all ye seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the low estate of the poor; 
 he hath not hid his face from him; but when he called unto him he heard him.
25 My praise is of thee in the great-congregation; 
 my vows will I perform in the sight of them that fear him.
26 The poor shall eat, and be satisfied; they that seek after the LORD shall praise him: 
 your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember themselves, and be turned unto the LORD; 
 and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD'S, 
 and he is the Governor among the nations.
29 All such as be fat upon earth 
 have eaten, and worshipped.
30 All they that go down into the dust shall kneel before him; 
 and no man hath quickened his own soul.
31 My seed shall serve him: 
 they shall be counted unto the Lord for a generation.
32 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness 
 unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.