Monday, January 31, 2022
I explained yesterday in my post on the paradox of democracy that I think the Prime Minister and Chancellor were right to confirm that they will stick to the recovery plan and introduce the Health and Care Levy in April, fixing social care and managing the public finances responsibly.
- The £400 billion of support the government provided businesses and families and our world-beating vaccine rollout means Britain now has the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and youth unemployment at a record low. Nevertheless, Covid has been a colossal shock and six million of us are now waiting for some form of treatment.
- To clear the backlog, we must fix social care, which is something which has needed doing under governments of all parties for decades. This will be funded through a Health and Care Levy – raising £39 billion for nine million more checks, scans and operations, 50,000 more nurses, and boosting social care.
- It was only possible to spend the vast amount which was spent to protect families and businesses during Covid, including the billions spent on the furlough scheme and other support given to business to keep people in jobs, more billions in extra support to the most vulnerable families through the 18-month temporary uplift to Universal credit, and billions of extra funding through local government, because Conservative-led governments had been responsible with the public finances. It will be equally important to take the same responsible approach to our recovery plan – from tackling the cost of living to fixing the backlogs.
In my humble opinion - and this is my view, not a promise or a statement of government policy - I believe that this will need to be, and will be, accompanied by targetted assistance to those most affected by fuel poverty and the rise in the cost of living.
The Prime Minister announced at the weekend that Britain is considering a major military offer to NATO, protecting our allies by reinforcing our diplomatic efforts with a deterrence.
- Russia has placed over 100,000 troops, tanks, artillery and missiles near Ukraine’s border, undermining the foundations of European security.
- That is why Britain is reinforcing our diplomatic efforts with a deterrence. The Prime Minister is considering the biggest possible offer to NATO, which could see a doubling of troop numbers in Estonia, and will reiterate the need for Russia to step back and engage diplomatically this week as he visits Eastern Europe.
- Britain must step up to take the lead in defence of freedom and democracy through credible deterrence and diplomacy, and by joining forces with our allies, we will show that there can never be rewards for aggression.
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Matthew Syed has an article in the Sunday Times today about the so-called "revolving door" in which politicians and civil servants who have regulated an industry then get jobs in it.
He cites UK examples involving members of all the main parties at the highest level and other examples demonstrating that this also happens around the world in other countries including the USA and several European states.
Up to now my view on this has been that it is OK as long as there are rules in place requiring a decent gap between when someone leaves office and when they can be offered a job in the industry they used to regulate when they held office, so that they are no longer in a position to offer amendments to government policy when they get the job offer, and that those rules should be strictly enforced.
Syed makes a strong case that the present time limits are not nearly long enough and he suggests a time delay of seven years. I think all the parties - and I stress, former ministers of all the main parties have done this, nobody is in a position to say "other parties have done this but we have not" - need to look very seriously at what Syed is saying. You can read his article here.
The current debate about whether the proposed National Insurance rise to improve funding for the NHS and for social care is a classic illustration of the paradox of democracy.
Whenever you propose spending money to tackle an urgent and serious problem you will nearly always meet with majority approval, usually overwhelming approval.
But whenever the time comes to propose to implement the specific tax rise to raise the large amount of money required to pay for it, you will ALWAYS find that the minority who do not agree with that spending will be joined by lots of people who don't like that particular method of raising the money or argue that "this is not the time" for a big rise in taxes - always enough that the tax rise is correctly seen as unpopular, usually enough that the majority in favour evaporates.
Every one of the last five Prime Ministers has been told by the press, by whoever was in opposition at the time, be his or her own backbenchers and by a majority in the opinion polls that it is time to act to provide more money for the NHS and to properly fund social care. Several have tried to do so - at least one of them losing her majority in the process.
All of those five prime ministers, including Boris Johnson, have been severely criticised in the press and by their opposition for not moving fast enough to do so.
But now that we are getting close to the point when this government is about to implement is proposals to raise money for the NHS and adult social care, the usual chorus of "It's not the right way" and "This is not the time" has started up, and the press with its' usual sad irresponsibility is talking of how unpopular the increase is - and stopped its' usual refrain of how much the NHS and adult social care need more money.
Now I do not like any rise in taxes. And I do not regard the National Insurance rise as a perfect way to raise what is needed. In many ways the only reason I support it is because I think it is the one way of raising the funds that the NHS and adult social care need of which there is a cat in hell's chance that a government of any political persuasion will have the guts to actually implement.
But I accept that public services, especially the NHS, must be properly funded and that somehow we have to raise the money to do that. And furthermore, we really need something much better to fund adult social care than the sticking plaster of an extra 2% increase on council tax.
So although it will be probably be one of the most unpopular opinions I have ever dared write on this blog, especially just before fighting an election, I agree with the decision to go ahead with the rise in National Insurance contributions.
I don't like it, but we either do this, or we recognise that no government will ever have the courage to properly fund the NHS or adult social care. And that would be worse.
"Imperial college won't half be upset when they find out what 'Imperial" means!"
(Anonymous wag on twitter, referring to the decision by Imperial College, London, to drop a Latin motto because it has associations with Empire. You couldn't make it up, could you?)
Saturday, January 29, 2022
Yesterday a long-standing servant of the people of Cumbria, Councillor Val Tarbitt, who represented Longtown on the county council and on Carlisle City Council, collapsed and died while doing the job she loved representing her constituents.
Val was at a community meeting when she collapsed. A first responder present gave aid while waiting for an NWAS ambulance to arrive but she was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
Among the many, many things Val did to support the people of Cumbria and her division, she was an Armed Forces Champion and at the time of her death she was chairman of the county council's Scrutiny Board for children and young people.
Her death was completely sudden - I was on a Teams call with Val on Tuesday and she wrote me a nice note about it the following day which was to be the last communication I ever received from her. There was not the slightest sign than anything like this might be on the cards.
What can I write about Val?
She worked hard for the people of Cumbria
She really cared.
She will be missed.
Rest in Peace.
The following tribute to Val has now been posted on the Cumbria County Council website
"It is with great sadness that the death of Cllr Val Tarbitt, the Conservative member for Longtown, is announced. Cllr Tarbitt, 81, died suddenly on Friday January 28, having been taken ill at a community event in her division.
She was elected to the county council in 2010, her division including the parishes of Arthuret, Bewcastle, Rockcliffe, Nicholforest, Stapleton, Westlinton and Kirkandrews-on-Esk.
A dedicated public servant with a background in higher education, Cllr Tarbitt held the Shadow portfolio for Children’s Services, was Chair of the Scrutiny Advisory Board - Children and Young People; and was a member of Scrutiny Management Board, LEP Scrutiny Board, Staffing Committee and Carlisle Local Committee.
Her outside appointments included Carlisle Armed Forces Champion, Carlisle Youth Zone, Gillford Centre Pupil Referral Unit, Children and Young People’s Working Group, and Longtown Community Centre.
Paying tribute, Conservative Group Leader Cllr Hilary Carrick said:
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the sudden death of Cllr Val Tarbitt last weekend.
“Val has been an excellent local councillor, campaigning tirelessly for the communities she represented.
“As Chair of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Advisory Board, Val cared passionately that every young person should be given the best possible start in life and the opportunity to live their best lives.
“She was also the County Council’s Armed Forces Champion for Carlisle, proactively engaging with local veterans on a regular basis to try and provide whatever support they needed.
“We will miss Val very much and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time.”
This week the UK launched negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Greenland, boosting our fishing industry and creating jobs.
- As a free trading nation Britain can strike new trade agreement with key trading partners around the world.
- So the UK government has launched negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Greenland this week, seeking to reduce or remove tariffs on seafood and boosting our fish and seafood processing sector – a key industry for Yorkshire and Scotland, while also helping to safeguard regional stability in the Arctic and increase collaboration on UK priorities including science and climate change.
- This will benefit UK supermarkets and hospitality, cutting costs for British people, and would come on top of the trade deals we have already struck with 70 countries, levelling up every part of the UK.
This week the Conservative government announced a "Way to Work" campaign to quickly help jobseekers get back to work, as our plan for jobs continues to give everyone the opportunities to get on in life, whilst also ensuring employers get the people they need.
- It's important that everyone has the opportunity and support to find any job quickly, as a job now means they can get a better job and progress into a career.
- That is why the government is launching the Way to Work campaign, to support 500,000 job-ready people off Universal Credit by the end of June by expecting them to look for any job in any sector after four weeks, and helping employers to shake off outdated stereotypes about the quality of candidates coming through jobcentres.
- This will build on our Plan for Jobs, which has seen 400,000 more people get into work than before the pandemic, by helping claimants get new jobs quickly and supporting employers to fill vacancies as we build back better.
Friday, January 28, 2022
Yesterday, the final Plan B measures were lifted in England, restoring more freedoms and marking the start of the next chapter in our fight against Covid-19.
The tireless efforts of NHS and care staff, the army of volunteers and the response of the British public who came forward to get boosted have allowed us to re-open our society and restore more freedoms.
That is why it was possible for the last of the Plan B measures to be lifted yesterday, with face coverings no longer mandatory in indoor venues, and organisations able to choose whether or not to require NHS Covid Passes, as we cautiously return to Plan A.
As we learn to live with Covid we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away so if you haven’t already – please come forward for your first, second or booster jab.
Today the government has announced that a ground-breaking cancer treatment will now be available on the NHS, reducing the risk of tumours returning and allowing patients to return to normal life.
- The NHS has a strong track record of securing rapid access to innovative, trailblazing treatments for patients, but sadly lung cancer remains the most common cause of cancer death in the UK.
- So it is fantastic news that a ground-breaking new drug, atezolizumab, which can significantly reduce the risk of cancer returning, is being made available allowing the NHS to offer thousands of lung cancer patients this new innovative treatment.
- The agreement which has been signed to secure this drug will help NHS staff continue to deliver world-class patient care and save lives.
The UK government today promised £97 million of emergency UK aid to the Afghan people, providing life-saving food and emergency health support whilst also supporting stability in the region.
- Britain promised to double UK aid to Afghanistan this year to reduce the impacts of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding and protect those most in need.
- That is why we pledged £97 million of emergency aid to Afghanistan today, providing essential food, shelter, health supplies, and essential child protection services to those who are most in need. The UK is also giving humanitarian agencies a boost by changing the law this week to make it easier for them to deliver aid in Afghanistan.
- By doubling UK aid to Afghanistan this year, we are saving lives, protecting women and girls and supporting stability in the region.
- Every effort must be made to ensure that this aid goes to help the vulnerable and the starving, not into arms for the Taleban or any other group which might use the resource we are supplying to carry out acts of terror. the aim will be to ensure that we give aid in the form of food, medicines and other kinds of support which cannot be perverted to terrorist use. But we cannot sit by while a nation is starving.
"Brexit is, in fact, done. There is no meaningful prospect of ‘Rejoin’ becoming the party platform of Labour or the Liberal Democrats in the short to medium term, and more importantly there is no meaningful prospect of a British application to rejoin not being met by a veto by someone somewhere in the EU27."
(Stephen Bush, writing in the New Statesman "morning call" email this week)
Thursday, January 27, 2022
The government has today announced £100 million in funding to back plans to build a new nuclear power plant in the UK, strengthening our energy independence and creating high-quality jobs.
- In light of high global gas prices, we need to ensure Britain’s future energy supply is bolstered by reliable, affordable, low carbon power that is generated in this country.
- So I am very pleased to see that the government has announced £100 million in funding to back the development of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant and strengthen investor confidence in the project, which will produce enough energy to power 6 million homes and support up to 10,000 jobs across the UK.
- important part of our plans to lower energy prices, and strengthen our energy independence, but will also create high-quality jobs and drive economic growth.
- Britain needs a balanced energy policy in which new nuclear is part of the mix.
Today we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, as we keep alive the memory of all those lost to the evil that was the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.
- The Holocaust was one of the darkest and most devastating crimes ever committed – a state sponsored attempt to eradicate an innocent people – and it must never be forgotten.
- That is why we are today commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day, which remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
- We can never forget the horror of the Holocaust and will continue to stamp out anti-Semitism wherever it rears its poisonous head, as well as educating future generations so it can never be repeated.
- Many people will be marking the event by placing a lighted candle in their window at 8pm this evening if it is safe for them to do so.
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Yesterday the government launched a new Cyber Security Strategy to crack down on cyber criminals and strengthen our public services against cyber-attacks – protecting against the harmful impacts of cybercrime.
- The sudden shift of many normal human activities which used to be usually conducted in other ways to conducting them online, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has given cyber criminals an unprecedented opportunity to disrupt our day to day lives and do our organisations harm.
- That is why the government has launched Britain's first ever Government Cyber Security Strategy – investing £2.6 billion in cyber over the next three years and launching the new Cyber Fast Stream to produce a generation of leaders with the technical expertise to bring our strategy to life.
- This marks a hugely important step in our journey to create a cyber resilient public sector and a better-defended government that can deliver for the British people free from cyber harm.
Tomorrow will be the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and it will be marked in Britain and around the world as Holocaust Memorial Day, when we will remember the victims of genocide.
More details are available on the Holocaust Memorial Day website here.
All forms of racism are unacceptable. And sadly, no section of human society, including political parties, is as free of racism as we could wish.
I do not believe that any of Britain's political parties can afford to be complacent about racism: that includes anti-semitism and it includes prejudice against Muslims.
Tomorrow on Holocaust memorial day we will be remembering all victims of genocide and especially the Shoah, Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews in particular and everyone else he didn't like in general. The deployment of the full power of a modern stage to attempt the scientific extermination of an entire people was in many ways the worst act of racism in history, and without question the worst act of racism in modern history.
The Shoah is a dreadful lesson of where racism can end up, and that is why a mention of anti-semitism is relevant to a post about Anti-Muslim prejudice - what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany can ultimately happen to any group if prejudice and hate are permitted to grow and fester. Indeed, at lesat one of the other acts of genocide commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day was directed against Muslims. We must all work to prevent such an accumulation of hate and prejudice against any group.
Among all the other things which are going on in politics, it is important that the issues raised by Nusrat Ghani MP are not forgotten and to stress that Anti-Muslim prejudice must be rooted out in government, and in all political parties: it has no place in our public life.
I therefore strongly welcome the inquiry by the cabinet office into the concerns raised by Nusrat Ghani. This probably should have been ordered sooner but far better late than never.
It is also important that the important work of implementing the Singh Inquiry recommendations continues to be - as it has been - supported by all parts of the Conservative party.
Professor Swaran Singh, who is professor of social and community psychiatry at Warwick university and a former commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was asked to lead an inquiry into racism within the Conservative party.
His full report was published in May 2021 and can be found here. He did find evidence of a number of cases of discrimination, two thirds of which related to prejudice against Muslims, and made a large number of recommendations. The Conservative party apologised unreservedly for these failings and accepted all the recommendations.
Those recommendations included the publication within six weeks of an action plan to address them, which was done. The latest update came with the publication of a six-month progress report on implementing the recommendations, which can be found here.
I believe that the publication of this highly critical report, the acceptance of all its recommendations, the publication of progress reports on the progress of implementing them, and the efforts I myself have seen from the Conservative party board to involve party members and activists in taking those recommendations seriously and making them a reality demonstrates that the party is absolutely serious about tackling racism.
Neither anti-muslim prejudice not any other form of racism has any place in our party.
But as I have said all along, neither we nor any other party can afford an atom of complacency. We must continue the good work which has been done to crack down on prejudice.
Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, the government has today announced new measures to acknowledge and eradicate antisemitic abuse on university campuses in the England to protect Jewish students and staff.
- Antisemitism has no place in our society or any of our world leading universities, so we must work hard to ensure that no staff member or student is subjected to such abhorrent abuse.
- That is why the government is committing to working hand-in-hand with education providers, vice chancellors and Jewish groups to improve data reporting, build a better picture of the issue and improve support for Jewish students to ensure universities have the right tools to tackle this issue.
- Education is a vaccine against antisemitism – we must all work together to make it crystal clear that antisemitism, like all forms of racism, will never be tolerated in our classrooms or campuses and we will continue to work to protect people from facing this abuse.
Yesterday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons on the situation in Ukraine, as Britain continues to work closely with our international allies to stand against Russian aggression and protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.
- The continued campaign of Russian aggression towards Ukraine is deeply concerning and we must do all we can, working with our international allies, to support Ukraine and protect her borders.
- That is why the UK has acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend herself, and continue to seek de-escalation through diplomatic discussions. Alongside our allies, we have made it clear that any Russian incursion into Ukraine would be met with coordinated and severe economic sanctions.
- The UK government has been repeatedly clear that further Russian incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and Britain will continue to work with our allies to stand up for the sovereignty of Ukraine.
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Cumbria County Council has served the necessary legal notice to allow for the possibility of an appeal against the rejection of the council's request for a Judicial Review to overturn the proposed local government reorganisation.
Just over nineteen hours after Cumbria Council took the first step towards lodging an appeal against the refusal of permission to launch a Judicial review, and more than twelve hours after the many of us had learned from sources in other councils, the council finally got around to informing members of the county council that it had taken this step.
Did the briefing address the fact that the judge had refused permission for a Judicial review and what CCC is seeking amounts to a request for permission to consider a possible appeal? It did not. The county council is presenting what it is doing as having "taken the decision to proceed with the next stage of the Judicial review."
Every point of the original request by Cumbria County Council's was rejected by the judge,
Judicial review is not about whether the courts or anyone else agrees with the decision of the government minister or council which took the decision which is being challenged. It is about whether that decision was taken lawfully and in accordance with due process.
Let's not forget that the application for Judicial Review of the Local Government Reform decision was launched by the council's Labour leader and Labour cabinet members against the wishes of a vote of the whole council, and against the advice of the Scrutiny Management Board after the decision was "called in" by myself and two colleagues.
Let's not forget either that the County Council has been ordered to pay the government £15,223 to cover government legal costs in this case and £7,500 to each of the six district councils in Cumbia, a total of £60,223. The county council's taxpayers will also, of course, have to fork out for the County's own legal bills.
Cumbria's taxpayers would have had to pay the legal bill whatever the court decided, of course, but the costs award, and indeed the ruling itself, makes clear that the judge thought the County Cabinet were acting unreasonably and were responsible for the public money spent on this case.
Now they are coming back for more. Cumbria Labour - wasting your money again.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister met with world leaders, the European Commission and NATO to discuss the concerning situation in Ukraine, as we continue to work closely with our international allies to stand against Russian aggression.
- The continued campaign of Russian hostility towards Ukraine is deeply concerning and we must do all we can, working with our allies, to support Ukraine.
- That is why the Prime Minister spoke with world leaders – outlining the steps Britain is taking to increase Ukraine’s defensive capacity and emphasising the need to support Ukraine against the full spectrum of malign Russian activity. World leaders agreed that should a further Russian incursion happen, allies must work quickly using an unprecedented package of sanctions.
- Britain has been repeatedly clear that a Russian incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake and we will continue to work with our allies to stand up for the sovereignty of Ukraine.
As infection rates fall and plans have been announced that from 11th February all travel testing measures will be removed for vaccinated arrivals, setting Britain free ahead of the crucial half term and spring holiday season.
- Infection rates are falling – and thanks to the success of our vaccine and booster rollout, Britain is now able to open up travel to the world.
- That is why, from 04:00 on 11 February, all testing requirements will be removed for fully vaccinated eligible arrivals, with only a simplified Passenger Locator Form now required – saving around £100 for the average family going abroad and providing a major boost for UK tourism.
- The pandemic is not over but we can move forward. Britain has one of the most open economies and free societies in Europe, and because of these changes, we now have a travel sector to match it.
Monday, January 24, 2022
The government has today laid before Parliament the Bill for the next phase of HS2 – to provide the North West with faster and more reliable train journeys, bringing communities together as we level up across the country.
- When the government announced the £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan, it was promised that this will deliver better railways to the North and Midlands years sooner than originally planned.
- Now that promise is being kept: this Bill will deliver a new high speed line from Crewe to Manchester, cutting travel from London to Manchester by around 55 minutes and Birmingham to Manchester by up to 45 minutes, creating 17,500 direct jobs in the North and Midlands.
- By bringing HS2 to Manchester and laying the foundations for Northern Powerhouse Rail, we are boosting local economies through better connections, more capacity, improved reliability and slashed journey times, up to 10 years sooner than previously planned.
- There is no doubt that the commitments secured at COP26 were historic – but they cannot be just words on a page.
- That is why Britain is urging countries to keep their commitment in the Glasgow Climate Pact, and deliver on: 2030 emissions reductions through net zero commitments, ending coal power, halting deforestation, and transitioning to clean vehicles, along with providing international finance to support countries vulnerable to climate change, to keep 1.5 degrees alive.
- Our absolute focus for the UK COP26 Presidency year must be is delivery - the Glasgow Climate Pact was a product of international cooperation and a practical demonstration of Global Britain in action and the UK will ensure the commitments made are honoured.
Today the government announced an extra £8 million in funding to support the rollout of Covid vaccinations in schools and additional air cleaning units for classrooms – keeping cases down and protecting face-to-face learning
- Protecting children’s education by keeping them in school and benefitting from face-to-face learning has been our absolute priority throughout the pandemic.
- That is why the government is are investing an extra £8 million to support schools with the vaccine rollout, building upon the 1.5 million 12 to 15 year olds who have already received at least one dose, while providing 9,000 air cleaning units to early years, schools and colleges – 1,000 more than previously planned.
- Testing, ventilation and vaccinations are our best weapons against the virus – it is essential that young people keep testing and get their vaccine to protect themselves and their education.
Sunday, January 23, 2022
This weekend the government announced the launch of Active Travel England, helping to create safer streets for cycling and walking, boost air quality and improve the health and wellbeing of the nation.
- Cycling and walking are not only beneficial for our health and the environment, but are also brilliant ways to connect communities.
- That is why the Conservative government has launched Active Travel England to drive up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure, and we have also announced a further £5.5 million of funding for local authorities, train operators and businesses to encourage a variety of active travel schemes.
- This will give people up and down the country the opportunity to access different forms of travel, support local businesses with the transition to green transport and improve cycling and walking standards for everyone.
Yesterday the UK government announced the launch of a new trade scheme with South Australia, boosting export opportunities and jobs both in the UK and Australia.
- The landmark free trade agreement Britain signed with Australia in December – expected to stimulate new trade worth £10.4 billion – opens the door for new collaborations with businesses in Australia.
- That is why the UK government has launched a new scheme with South Australia which will deepen our ties in industries of the future including cyber, green technologies, and advanced manufacturing, as well as increasing cultural ties and building on the trade and investment opportunities arising from our FTA.
- This will help to create jobs, increase wages and drive innovation across the country as we continue to forge stronger partnerships with the fastest-growing economies of the world as an independent nation.
Saturday, January 22, 2022
Local Conservative activists have been out and about around the country today.
I joined the team which was out in Bury South. Got off to a great start - at the very first doorstep I called on, the resident had joined the Conservative party online this morning! We had forty or fifty people out, most from Bury, some from the rest of the North West
Pictures above: 1) Most of the team in Bury South pose outside the Sir Robert Peel pub first thing this morning
2) Myself and North West Region Deputy Chair Cllr Val Allen MBE with the team
3) Chris Green MP, Cllr Toby Hewitt and Cllr Nadim Muslim while out and about campaigning in Bury South.
"I like to imagine that there is a region of Dante’s Ninth Circles, specially reserved for traitors, who not only betray their benefactors, but who also get their chess metaphors hopelessly wrong."
Raymond Keene proposes a dire fate for those who use misleading chess metaphors involving terms like check, checkmate and stalemate which they apparently do not understand, at the conclusion of a piece in "The Article" which you can read in full here.
Friday, January 21, 2022
The UK has announced plans to send vital humanitarian aid to Tonga, helping the island recover from the devastating tsunami.
- Our thoughts are with those caught up in the appalling devastation and loss of life caused by the tsunami in Tonga.
- The Royal Navy has redeployed HMS Spey and,\ working with Australia, the UK is also sending 17 pallets of aid supplies to Tonga aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Adelaide. This vital aid will deliver medical support, tents and tools to aid the recovery efforts.
- Britain is working closely with our Australian and New Zealand allies to assist and stand ready to further support our long-standing Commonwealth partner as it recovers from this devastating natural disaster.
Today the government announced backing for a new electric-vehicle Gigafactory in the North, capturing the benefits of the booming electric vehicle market, and bringing thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs to Northumberland.
- The Conservative government is making the investment necessary to ensure UK’s retains its place as one of the best locations in the world for auto manufacturing.
- That is why the government is backing a new electric vehicle Gigafactory in Northumberland, which will create 3,000 direct highly-skilled jobs and manufacture 300,000 green batteries a year – enough to supply a quarter of the electric vehicles made in the UK annually.
- Support for this new Gigafactory will help to level up the North with thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.
This week Britain and the USA launched bilateral trade discussions on proposals which include a cut in US tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products – committing to finding a resolution as soon as possible which will support UK jobs and businesses.
- The distortions from global steel and aluminium excess capacity pose a serious risk to market-oriented steel and aluminium industries in the United Kingdom.
- That is why the UK's Conservative government has launched official talks with our friend and ally to discuss the impact on our industries, agreeing that the US and UK will partner to promote high standards, address shared concerns, and hold countries that practice harmful market-distorting policies to account.
- The government will continue to prioritise UK jobs and businesses and seek a resolution to protect our steel and aluminium industries from harmful market-distorting policies.
Thursday, January 20, 2022
Today the government announced increased digital support for UK businesses through our Help to Grow scheme – future-proofing small businesses and putting the UK at the forefront of the worldwide digital revolution as we build back better.
- Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy – creating jobs and prosperity across the UK – and tech is proven to boost business productivity and help firms, however big or small, to work better.
- That is why the Conservative government has launched our Help to Grow: Digital scheme, meaning that from today, eligible businesses can now receive discounts of up to £5,000 off approved Digital Accounting and CRM software, and businesses can also access specialised advice on how to choose the right digital technologies to boost their growth and productivity through a new online platform.
- This will help small businesses adopt new technology, boost their performance and put the UK at the forefront of a worldwide digital revolution as we continue to level up the nation.
This is the statement the PM made in the House of Commons on reviewing Plan B measures yesterday, 19th January 2022
"Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on our progress against Omicron and the review of our Plan B measures.
Within hours of learning from scientists in South Africa about the emergence of a new Covid variant last November, this government acted, introducing balanced and proportionate restrictions at our borders to slow the seeding of Omicron in our country.
As we learned more about this highly transmissible new variant, we implemented the Plan B measures we had prepared precisely in case our situation deteriorated, encouraging people to change their behaviour to slow the spread of the virus and buying crucial time to get boosters into arms.
We made the big call to refocus our National Health Service, necessarily requiring the difficult postponement of many other appointments – so that we could double the speed of booster programme.
And thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our NHS and its volunteers, we delivered the fastest booster programme in Europe, reaching half our population before any other European country, with more than 36 million boosters now in arms across the UK, including more than 90 per cent of all over 60s in England.
And taking a balanced approach, we resisted calls from others to shut down our country all over again.
Many nations across Europe have endured further winter lockdowns.
Many have seen hospitality curfews and nightclubs closed, capacity limits at sports stadiums, the return of social distancing, and, in some places, Christmas and New Year as good as cancelled.
But this government took a different path.
We kept England open. And we supported those businesses which faced reduced demand because of the response to Plan B measures.
And while we must continue to remain cautious, the data are showing that time and again this government got the toughest decisions right.
Today’s latest ONS data show clearly that infection levels are falling in England. And while there are some places where cases are likely to continue rising, including in primary schools – our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally.
There remain, of course, significant pressures on the NHS across our country, and especially in the North East and North West. But hospital admissions which were doubling every 9 days just two weeks ago – have now stabilised, with admissions in London even falling. And the numbers in intensive care not only remain low but are actually also falling.
So this morning, the Cabinet concluded that because of the extraordinary booster campaign together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures – we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire. As a result, from the start of Thursday next week mandatory certification will end.
Organisations can, of course, choose to use the NHS Covid Pass voluntarily but we will end the compulsory use of Covid status certification in England.
From now, the government is no longer asking people to work from home and people should now speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office.
And having looked at the data carefully, the Cabinet concluded that once regulations lapse, the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere.
Mr Speaker, from tomorrow, we will no longer require face masks in classrooms, and the Department for Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas.
In the country at large, we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded places, particularly where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet. But we will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.
The government will also ease further restrictions on visits to care homes and my Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, will set out plans in the coming days.
Mr Speaker, as we return to Plan A, the House will know that some measures still remain, including those on self-isolation. In particular, it is still a legal requirement for those who have tested positive for Covid to self-isolate.
On Monday we reduced the isolation period to five full days with two negative tests. And there will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether – just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
As Covid becomes endemic we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others. The self-isolation regulations expire on 24th March, at which point I very much expect not to renew them.
Indeed were the data to allow, I would like to seek a vote in this House to bring that date forwards.
In advance of that, we will set out our long-term strategy for living with Covid-19, explaining how we hope and intend to protect our liberty and avoid restrictions in future by relying instead on medical advances – especially the vaccines which have already saved so many lives. But to make that possible, we must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter.
When there are still over 16,000 people in hospital in England alone, the pandemic is not over. And, Mr Speaker, make no mistake, Omicron is not a mild disease for everyone – and especially if you’re not vaccinated. Just look at the numbers in intensive care in other countries where vaccination rates are far lower.
Indeed, from our NHS data, we know that around 90 per cent of people in intensive care are not boosted.
So I urge members across the House to do everything possible to encourage any remaining constituents who have not done so – to get boosted now. And for the next few weeks, I encourage everyone across the country to continue with all the cautious behaviours that we know help to keep each everybody safe.
Washing hands, letting fresh air in, getting tested, self-isolating if positive, and, as I say, thinking about wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings.
Mr Speaker, Omicron has tested us, just as Alpha and Delta did before. But let’s remember some of what we’ve achieved.
We were the first nation in the world to administer a vaccine. We were the fastest in Europe to roll it out. Because outside of the European Medicines Agency, this government made the big call to pursue our own British procurement strategy rather than opting back into the EU scheme as some people urged.
We created a world-beating testing programme, the largest in Europe, and procured the most antivirals of any country in Europe too, because this government made the big call to invest early in lateral flow tests and in cutting-edge drugs to protect the most vulnerable.
We’ve delivered the fastest booster campaign in Europe, and we’re the first to emerge from the Omicron wave, because the government made the big call to focus on our NHS, and to refocus our activity and lead that campaign to Get Boosted Now.
And that’s why we’ve retained the most open economy and society anywhere across the European continent, and the fastest growing economy in the G7 – because we made that tough decision to open up last Summer when others said that we shouldn’t and to keep things open this winter when others wanted them shut.
This week the World Health Organisation said that while the global situation remains challenging, the United Kingdom can start to see light at the end of the tunnel. And Mr Speaker, this is no accident of history.
Confronted by the nation’s biggest challenge since the Second World War and the worst pandemic since 1918, any government would get some things wrong, but this government got the big things right.
And I commend this Statement to the House."
This week the government launched a £70 million Veterans Strategy Action Plan, which contains 60 commitments supporting our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran.
- Veterans make a huge contribution to society and we’ve already made large progress in supporting them in recent years — including launching a veterans’ railcard for discounted travel and offering a national insurance holiday to companies employing veterans.
- This week the government went further by launching our £70 million veterans strategy, which will offer training to help veterans take up public sector roles such as teaching, modernise services, provide targeted mental health support, and help us better understand the needs of the veteran community, including LGBT veterans.
- This will make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran and the plans outlined today step up our commitment to allow them to live successful and healthy lives after service.
Here is a complete sentence, the first part of which is one of the quotes which in history has been most often taken out of context with dire consequences. Those who make apologies for despots often repeat it without the last five words.
Regimes and leaders which set out to be feared without making any attempt to be loved or respected may survive for a time. But none lasts forever - and I can't think of one such regime that left anything behind which was worth much.
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Cumbria County Council has lost the application for Judicial Review of the Local Government Reform decision which was launched by the council's Labour leader against the wishes of a majority of the council.
This will not surprise anyone who saw the legal advice given to Cumbria County council and nor will the fact that the Judge ordered the county council to pay the legal costs of the government and the other councils in Cumbria - essentially the county council didn't have much of a case.
The County Council has been ordered to pay the government £15,223 to cover government legal costs in this case and £7,500 to each of the six district councils in Cumbia, a total of £60,223. The county council's taxpayers will also, of course, have to fork out for the County's own legal bills.
The poor old taxpayer would have paid the bill whatever the court decided, of course but the costs award, and indeed the ruling itself, makes clear that the judge thought the County Cabinet were acting unreasonably and to blame for the waste of public money.
Guido Fawkes points out here that the MP for Bury South, who was elected as a Conservative in 2019 but defected to the Labour party today, had in 2020 co-sponsored a bill requiring MPs who change parties to submit to a by election.
The bill was not passed but if he still believes in what he voted for sixteen months ago he does of course have the option of resigning and fighting a by-election. The opinion polls suggest he would have a good chance of being only the fourth MP in modern history to fight a by election and win it on changing parties (after Dick Taverne in 1972 and the duo of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless in 2014).
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not calling the MP for Bury South to trigger a by-election, not because I am afraid of the result but for one reason only - I refuse to add to the irritating display of double standards and hypocrisy from too many people on all sides of politics whenever an elected politician crosses the floor.
Time and again when someone joins a political party other than their own, a chorus of people demand a by-election, but when someone defects to their own party, the same people welcome them with open arms and either deny that a by-election is needed, or else there is a deafening silence from them on the subject.
It will be interesting to see whether Copeland Labour party, who have been demanding a by-election for the Mayoralty of a council which will not exist in fifteen months time because the Mayor joined the Conservatives, write to Sir Keir Starmer demanding that the MP for Bury South fight a by-election.
Bet they don't.
Thomas Sowell describes one of the problems with assuming that current and past trends will simply carry forward very effectively in the quote above: another expression of the same principle was given by the Economist magazine a few years ago when they wrote of forecasts derived purely from extrapolation,
"Beware of optimists with rulers!"
A rather longer and whimsical, but amusing, reductio ad absurdum against the idea that it is safe to forecast by thoughtless extrapolation of existing trends was penned by Mark Twain nearly a hundred and forty years ago in "Life on the Mississipi."
“The Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. . . . Its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.
Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and “let on” to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past . . . what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! . . .
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long. . . .
“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
It was promised in Magna Carta that "To none will we delay, to none will we deny right or justice" but our courts are clogged up with a backlog of cases which is indeed causing delays.
To help address this it has been announced today that there will be an increase in magistrates’ sentencing power, allowing them give up to 12 month prison sentences – double what they can currently give – as part of a strategy to widen the range of cases they can deal with, thereby helping to drive down the backlog of court cases and speed up justice.
- Magistrates are the lynchpins of our legal system – but the backlog of cases from the pandemic means we must take a fresh approach to delivering justice.
- That is why we have doubled the sentence a magistrate can give from 6 to 12 months’ imprisonment – and they will now be able to sentence more serious cases such as fraud, burglary, and assault.
- This will free up around 1,700 crown court sitting days a year, delivering the speedy justice that victims of crime deserve as we build back safer from pandemic.
The government has announced additional taxpayer funding into family mediation to help thousands more families avoid the courtroom – sparing children and parents stress and conflict.
- During separation, children and their parents should be spared the stress and conflict of the courtroom as much as possible, and mediation is often a more efficient way of resolving disputes.
- That is why an additional £1.3 million is being put into into the landmark family mediation scheme – tripling investment into this scheme and providing 2,440 additional vouchers for mediation services to help more families resolve disputes away from court.
- This will spare families going through lengthy and costly courtroom battles and help to free up vital capacity in family courts, ensuring the system can recover quickly from the pandemic.