Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Quote of the day 28th May 2022

“I don’t think it is wise to link Scotland’s politics to those in the island of Ireland.”

“I think it best to let the people north and south in that island find their way to a solution, without a Scottish opportunistic finger being pushed into that complex political pie.”

(Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, responding to suggestions that the SNP and Sinn Fein might make common cause, which even some wiser heads in the SNP described as “Not at all helpful.” 

I am inclined to suspect that those Scots like Jim Sillars who are deeply concerned about any such idea may tend to include those who have paid rather more attention to this history of all parts of these islands including their own country than those who think it is a good idea for Scottish and Irish nationalists to make common cause.

There were good reasons why Gerry Adams gave the present First Minister's predecessor a very dusty answer when he tried to suggest that both Ireland and Scotland were fellow victims of imperialism from London. What is known to historians as the "Plantation of Ulster" was organised as a joint Scottish and English venture by a King who had ruled Scotland for decades before he also inherited the throne of England. Nicola Sturgeon would do well to remember how badly Alex Salmond's overtures to Sinn Fein went down.)


Saturday music spot: Libera sing "Voca me"

Friday, May 27, 2022

Music to start the weekend: John Williams - Obi-Wan theme

As the first two episodes of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series starring Ewan MacGregor and Hayden Christian finally become available, there was only one possible choice of music to post on the blog today ...

Swimathon 2022

I would like to repeat the huge thank you I published earlier to those who supported Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK by sponsoring my swim in Swimathon 2022 earlier this month. 

Glad that at least one thing went right at the start of May 2022 - I completed the 5,000 metre challenge swim, 200 lengths of Copeland pool, in two hours, nine minutes and ten seconds.

Between online donations and those who sponsored me in person we have now raised £340 plus about fifty pounds of Gift Aid from Rishi Sunak!

You can see my Justgiving page - which is still open for donations if anyone is feeling generous - by following the link just below:

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

Leiland-James Corkill

This week Laura Castle was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the murder of Leiland-James Corkill, a one-year-old boy who had been placed with her and her husband in a pre-adoption placement by Cumbria Council council.

The council's executive director John Readman provided a public statement on behalf of the council last week, including an apology for Leiland-James’ death. 


"Adoption should have been a new beginning for Leiland," he said.

"That was cruelly taken away from him by the person who should have cared for him and kept him safe.

"We are deeply sorry for Leiland's death, it should not have happened.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with his birth family and all those who knew this little boy.

"Abuse of a child by adopters is almost unheard of and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this happening again, here or anywhere else."

The information that has come out through the trial was both shocking and distressing.

I hope and expect that councillors of all parties will work to ensure that we understand what happened and whether there are things that could have been done differently.

I understand that an independent review from Cumbria Safeguarding Children Partnership will be published in July. That will look at how Cumbria County Council, and the council's partners in the NHS, worked with the family through the adoption approval process and after Leiland-James was placed with the Castles.

We must go through that report with a fine tooth comb. Cumbria County council failed that little boy and all reasonable steps must be taken that neither the existing council in its last year of life or the successor councils make the same mistakes again in the future.

Quote of the day 27th May 2022

"The events detailed in Sue Gray’s report were wrong and should never have happened. 

They’ve been investigated, a full and genuine apology has been given and it’s now time to move on. 

We must focus on the challenges facing people today."

(Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, chairman of the Conservative party)


I suspect that there are people who will read that quote and ask "How can he defend the indefensible?"

He isn't defending it, neither am I, and indeed nor is the PM. Anyone who thinks Oliver Dowden is defending what happened should perhaps be asked 

"What part of 'Wrong and should never have happened' don't you understand?"

It was indeed wrong, and it certainly should never have happened.

It was wrong in itself and it was a symptom of a culture of entitlement at the top of British society - including more than one political party, the civil service, the media and the elite in general - which needs to be challenged. There must be one rule for everyone, not one rule for those at the top and different rules for others.

The apologies which the PM has given are welcome: so are the measures which the government announced yesterday to address the cost of living crisis. But more is needed.

Going forward the government needs to demonstrate that it has learned the lessons of recent events, not just "partygate" but the cost of living crisis, the pandemic, and the invasion of Ukraine. 

  • We must continue to build our economy. 
  • We must get a grip on the issues which have hit so many people so hard in the wallet. 
  • We must train more medical professionals so that the NHS can be adequately staffed and address the huge backlog of people who need care and treatment following the pandemic and reduce the enormous stress on NHS staff. 
  • We must continue the crackdown on dirty money from Russia and elsewhere so that London remains a welcome place to invest honest money but is not a safe haven for the money stolen by dictators and crooks. 
  • We must show by deed and word that the rules apply to everyone.

If Boris Johnson can lead a government which achieves those things over the next year, and continues to deliver on the promises in the Conservative manifesto, he can, probably will, and yes, I will put my head above the parapet and write should, remain Prime Minister. If he cannot, then either the parliamentary Conservative party or the electorate will remove him.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Futher action to help households deal with the cost of living crisis

I was pleased to see that today the Chancellor unveiled a  Plan for a Stronger Economy, including more concrete action to help individuals and families deal with the cost of living crisis. £400 to every household - and unlike the previous plan, it will not have to be paid back. An additional £650 million paid directly into the bank accounts of 8 million of the worst-off households. (I presume there will be special arrangements for those who do not have bank accounts.) 

Overall this takes to  £37 billion the package of support to help people with the cost of living as we grow our economy. 

And yes, we have changed our mind on a windfall tax on energy. I don't apologise either for having concerns about the principle of windfall taxes in general, or for the fact that as the "perfect storm" of energy prices, impact of the pandemic, and of the war Ukraine has worsened at the same time that even some in the oil and gas industry, such as the chair of BP, have said they could cope with a temporary tax rise and still keep up investment, the government has decided to be flexible in these special circumstances. Only a fool never changes his mind.

  • A series of global forces mean families and businesses are being hit with everyday price rises and it is our priority to help the millions of families struggling with the cost of living. 
  • That is why the chancellor has announced an extra £15 billion of support which will support the most vulnerable households with up to £1,200 – bringing our total package of support to £37 billion to help families tackle cost of living pressures – part of our Plan for a Stronger Economy.
  • While it is impossible for any government to solve every problem, our priority is to help the millions of families who are struggling now as we secure long-term economic growth with our Plan for a Stronger Economy. 



Quote of the day 26th May 2022


 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Quote of the day 24th May 2022

"We terrorise older people for the crime of not knowing how to download an App."

Quote from a discussion on this morning's BBC Radio 4 today programme on how councils, railway stations and private companies make life extremely\ difficult for the non-tech savvy, many of whom are older people, if they fail to offer a range of ways to pay for or book services such as parking and effectively force people to use smartphone Apps or other automated services which can be extremely user-unfriendly,

I didn't catch the name of the person who said this but he is 100% right.

During the discussion Dame Esther Rantzen - not someone I always agree with but what she said this time is perhaps worth some consideration - suggested that the government should have a minister for older people, and the sort of rule that such a minister might try to introduce would be an exemption from prosecution for anyone over 55 who fails to make a payment when the only way they were offered to pay it was a Smartphone app which they were unable to use.

 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Quotes of the day 23rd May 2022

  'If we have learned anything since the 2016 referendum, it is just how heaving the UK’s educated middle classes are with cranks, obsessives, fantasists, conspiracy theorists and downright crackpots.'


(Stephen Daisley on Twitter, responding to the suggestion that Union Flags hanging in Regent Street to mark the Queen's forthcoming Platinum Jubilee somehow has relevance to Nationalism which justifies a big headline about Nazi Germany.)

Geoff Norcott commented on some of the same comments which inspired Stephen's tweet

"Twitter needs to have an automatic pop-up saying:

'Are you *sure* you want to compare this to Nazi Germany?'"

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday music spot: "Adoramus" by Libera

Quote of the day 22nd May 2022

 "He can have as many tank shells as he likes but if he's got no tanks to fire them that's a fat lot of good."

Weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon writing in the Express about the Russian army's logistical problems in Ukraine. His view is that Russia is running short of sophisticated munitions such as hypervelocity missiles; he thinks they still have lots of conventional artillery and tank shells but that Ukrainian forces have successfully knocked out a lot of Russia's tanks and some of their conventional artillery.)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Vangelis RIP


Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, known professionally as Vangelis, composer of many brilliant pieces of music including the "Chariots of Fire" theme died this week.

He will be missed but his music will, I suspect, remain to be played and remembered for a very long time.

Rest in Peace 

Quote of the day 19th May 2022


 








Lest my choice of the above quote be misunderstood, I wish to make crystal clear that it is offered purely for it's value as a thought, and is not to be misunderstood as a coded message about the person who originated it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Second quote of the day 15th May 2022

 "We have been reminded in the most brutal way why NATO is so important."

(Annalena Baerbock, German foreign minister, speaking at a NATO press conference just now)

Sunday music spot: Handel's Messiah, Ev'ry valley shall be exalted

Quote of the day 15th May 2022


 

Congratulations to Ukraine on winning Eurovision


 








Slava Ukrayini!

Congratulations to Ukraine on winning Eurovision 2022, and well done to Sam Ryder, the UK entrant, for an excellent performance and second place. (I gather he got more votes than the previous eleven UK entries put together.)

I gather that the number of competition votes cast as a result of the votes from the public in each European country for Ukraine's entry, was 439 out of a possible 468. The largest number of votes cast by each country for the entry which had most votes from that country was twelve, the second largest was ten. To get 439 votes would have to mean that almost every other country gave them either 10 or 12. 


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Defending our country: the nuclear deterrent

This week the government announced that £2 billion of defence contracts have been awarded to support the third phase of our submarine nuclear deterrent programme – ensuring the UK remains at the vanguard of global security while supporting tens of thousands of high-skilled jobs.

  • Our Dreadnought Class of submarines will be crucial to maintaining and safeguarding our national security, with the nuclear deterrent protecting UK citizens from the most extreme threats every day.
  • That is why the government has announced that over £2 billion of defence contracts have been awarded to begin the third major phase of the future submarine nuclear deterrent programme, building the largest submarines in Royal Navy history and supporting around 30,000 jobs across the UK.
  • This investment will boost a key British industry for decades to come, protecting our national security and supporting high-skilled jobs.

Making it easier to rent your home

The government has announced the biggest change to renters law in a generation, improving the lives of renters by driving up standards in the sector and levelling up the country.

  • Too many renters are living in damp, unsafe and cold homes, powerless to put it right, and under the threat of sudden eviction.
  • That is why we announced our Renters Reform Bill, driving up quality for private renters by giving all renters the legal right to a safe and warm home, banning Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, and introducing regular, rigorous inspections and stronger powers to tackle failings by social housing landlords, delivering a New Deal for renters.
  • This will end the injustice faced by too many renters and help level up communities and improve the life chances of people from across the country.

Quote of the day 12th May 2022


 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Northern Ireland and the Protocol

Northern Ireland needs a government to be formed at the Stormont Assembly. And it is clear that it will not get one unless progress is made to make the Northern Ireland trade protocol more workable.

It was never going to be easy for Britain to leave the EU without either re-creating a highly undesirable border on the Island of Ireland or an equally undesirable one within the United Kingdom in the Irish Sea. Indeed, my concerns about the difficulty of doing this was one of the three main reasons I voted Remain.

However, the majority of people voted Leave, and Britain has left the EU. Any deal to do so which had any chance of working was obviously going to have to involve a great deal of compromise, give and take - and to be brutally honest, probably more than a little fudging of the issues - on the part of the UK and Irish governments and the EU, to reflect the concerns of the various communities in Ireland.

It is my impression that the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol which was part of the exit deal contains various bits of language designed to protect the interests of both Unionist and Republican communities which, if interpreted in a hard-line and inflexible manner, are incompatible. It is also my impression that a number of actors, particularly the EU and certain EU member governments - this comment, by the way is not aimed at the Irish government,  but the French one - are interpreting the agreement in a flexible way, and in the process causing all manner of damage to the situation in Ireland.

If interpreted in that way the protocol is unsustainable, and therefore in the long term will not be sustained. I believe that Britain should always seek to live up to agreements that we sign, but we have to negotiate and act within the rules of international law to resolve this situation.

UK Foreign secretary Liz Truss made a statement today on this issue. What's written above is my opinion: what's written below is the view of the UK government. The Foreign Secretary's statement on the situation in Northern Ireland said that.

  • The current EU proposals on the Northern Ireland Protocol fail to sufficiently resolve any of the real issues affecting people in Northern Ireland and in some cases would make things worse. Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are still subject to different laws and taxes to everyone else in the United Kingdom. This situation has left Northern Ireland without an executive and poses a threat to peace and stability.
  • That is why the Foreign Secretary has made it clear the UK will not shy away from taking action to stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found. While our preference has always been for a negotiated solution, the answer cannot be more checks, paperwork and disruption.
  • The UK has worked hard and in good faith with the EU and we will continue to do everything we can to find the best solution for the people of Northern Ireland that protects peace and stability in the region.

Boris in Finland and Sweden

Today the Prime Minister visited Finland and Sweden to discuss the conflict in Ukraine and the security of Europe more broadly.

  • Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the risks posed to European security and the UK is leading the efforts to bolster our collective security.
  • That is why the Prime Minister travelled to Finland and Sweden today, in a meeting of democratic nations to discuss Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and issues such as security which are of importance here and overseas – reiterating countries’ democratic capability to decide on things like NATO membership.
  • We will do everything we can to support Ukraine and work with partners across Europe to defend our collection security.

Midweek music spot: Overture to Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld"

Quote of the day 11th May 2022


 











Being on the side of the majority is useful for a politician in a democratic country, but I can see that Marcus Aurelius had a point!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Quote of the day 10th May 2022

"I disagree with many policies of this government, but that doesn't mean I feel the need to disagree with everything. Like many I have become weary of the bad faith attacks, the inability to offer even a soupcon of credit for policy successes, the exhausting criticisms which do nothing for democracy and everything to inflame the cynicism which has become a democratic disease. The truth is that in the whole, and with only a few exceptions, ministers did their best in unenviable circumstances.

And to think otherwise is not a reflection of them, but a truly devastating one of us."

(Matthew Syed, conclusion of an article in the Sunday Times at the weekend - see article posted yesterday evening for more detail and link.)

Monday, May 09, 2022

Monday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto in C major for two flutes

Matthew Syed on how the debate on COVID illustrates the decay of the quality of debate

Sunday Times journalist Matthew Syed, who to the best of my knowledge is not a Conservative and certainly writes plenty of things I disagree with, wrote a very good piece in yesterday's paper about the stage of public debate as illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the early stages of the pandemic one of my friends posted that whatever any government had done they would be attacked by the relatives of those who died for not having done enough, and by those who lost their jobs or businesses for having imposed restrictions which were too strict. This was to prove only too accurate.

Certainly on social media (particularly Facebook but also the comments section of this blog) I found the government constantly under fire from two diametrically opposed directions: some who thought that the lockdowns and other restrictions on liberty should have come sooner and been even stricter, others who thought that those measures were far too strict and amounted to an assault on freedom. Most of the people posting from both those perspectives were willing to respect the opinions of those taking different views: some were not.

The full article is available on the Times website here if you have access, but I have posted below some extracts from what Matthew Syed wrote:

"One leading statistician told me, 'This is the most complex public policy challenge of my lifetime.' 

"In April 2020 I found myself writing 'I do not envy political leaders making such consequential decisions amid such radical uncertainty.'" 

Syed refers to last week's publication of a report by the WHO ranking nations by excess deaths during the pandemic, and writes

"The UK is roughly in the middle ... when compared with similar nations: we had 109 excess deaths a year per 100,000 people compared with 133 in Italy, 116 in Germany, and 111 in Spain."

"I suspect these results will not much surprise the British public."

"Early reports of a seemingly higher death rate were not a consequence of unique incompetence in Westminster but the deceptive nature of government statistics in other parts of the world."

"The WHO estimate of the number of UK excess deaths is almost precisely the same as that already produced by the National Audit Office. In India, by contrast, the WHO estimates five million excess deaths while the Indian government continues to pretend that it is closer to 500,000. To put it simply, the British authorities were rather more honest with the public, something that should make us proud.

"But what strikes me most about the last two years is the abject, often irrational  nature of public discourse. At times it was as if social media and some of its mainstream equivalents were observing an entirely different crisis.

"Left-wing pundits glimpsed an evil cabal that failed to lock down in March 2020 because it revelled in the mass deaths of the elderly and vulnerable and perhaps wanted to eliminate them."


I can vouch both that Matthew Syed is right on this and that such accusations are often put forward in a way which is utterly impervious to logic. 

When I asked one person, who was making precisely the allegation that the government was deliberately trying to kill off pensioners, why on earth a party which had been elected to power by a voter base very, very heavily weighted towards the elderly would want to kill off its' own supporters, he just doubled down and continued to post similar allegations which elevated cognitive dissonance to an art form. 

Syed also writes

"On the other side were equally rabid critics who argued that, far from locking down too late, the government should never have locked down at all."

"There was  ...  no recognition that it was possible for decent people to disagree in good faith. No, anyone who took a different position had to be stupid, and possibly evil.

"What the COVID era reveals is the shocking decline in the standard and probity of public discourse."

He points out that this was not just social media, adding

"Think back to how television functioned during the pandemic - the constant attempts to ask "gotcha" questions rather than elicit information. This was not because interviewers were superficial but because they had an eye to how the clip might go viral later in the day."

"Yesterday I trawled the internet feeds of those who most aggressively attacked the government, particularly those on the left who condemned the "high" death rates. Do you think they informed their followers that the UK wasn't the worst performer in Europe after all?"

"Not a bit of it."

"I disagree with many policies of this government, but that doesn't mean I feel the need to disagree with everything. Like many I have become weary of the bad faith attacks, the inability to offer even a soupcon of credit for policy successes, the exhausting criticisms which do nothing for democracy and everything to inflame the cynicism which has become a democratic disease. The truth is that in the whole, and with only a few exceptions, ministers did their best in unenviable circumstances.

And to think otherwise is not a reflection of them, but a truly devastating one of us."  

Swimathon 2022 completed

I did manage to complete the Swimathon 5,000 challenge yesterday by swimming 200 lengths of Copeland Pool in two hours, nine minutes and ten seconds.

This was to raise money for two excellent causes: Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

A huge thank-you to all the generous souls who have sponsored me or promised to do so - at the timer of writing there have been online sponsorship donations of £250 via my Justgiving page which the government will supplement with at least £25 of gift aid: three people have also promised to sponsor me when they next see me which should take the amount raised to help people living with cancer past £300.

Here is a picture of my Swimathon 2022 swimming cap and the medal I was awarded for completing the 5,000m challenge.












And here is the link to my Justgiving page: if any more kind souls would like to sponsor me and support these great causes I would be most grateful.

Link to my Justgiving page: click here.

Quote of the day 9th May 2022


 

Sunday, May 08, 2022

FT makes their online Ukraine War coverage free to read

Yes, I know it's an advertising tactic, but I shall be interested to read what they have to say.

The FT have made most of their online content about the war in Ukraine available at

 War in Ukraine: free to read | Financial Times (ft.com)

If any other major news outlet publishes content which is usually behind a paywall for free I will post a link on this blog to them too.


Sunday music spot: Joseph Haydn's "Insanae et vanae curae"

A lockdown performance by the choir of Oriel College of Haydn's motet "Insanae et vanae Curae" 

The lyrics can loosely be translated thus: 

‘A crazed and raging passion invades our minds: 
Again and again madness fills the heart, robbed of hope. 
How does it profit you, O mortal man, 
To seek for worldly success, if you take no thought of Heaven? 
Yet if God is for you, all things are are on your side.'

Second quote of the day for 8th May 2022 (VE Day)

"The evil has returned, Again!"

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said today that evil has returned to Ukraine as he gave an emotional address for VE Day, when Europe commemorates the formal surrender of Germany to the Allies in World War Two.

The life that soldiers fought for in that war came to an end on February 24th when Russian forces invaded, he said in a video message.

"The evil has returned. Again!" Zelenskyy said. "In a different form, under different slogans, but for the same purpose."

But he added that he is convinced that Ukraine and its allies will win.

Victory in Europe remembered

 


Quote of the day 8th May 2022

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Swimathon 2022

I will be taking part in Swimathon 2022 tomorrow to try to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie Cancer care.

This will be the 29th consecutive year I have taken the 5,000 metre challenge: I will be trying to swim that distance by doing 200 lengths of Copeland pool tomorrow afternoon.

I would be very grateful for anyone who is able to sponsor me or any other participant to raise money for these extremely good causes and make a difference to people living with cancer. You can do this via my justgiving page, which can be found by clicking on the link below:

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




Saturday music spot: another version of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (Ukraine Edition)


Following on from yesterday's music spot I was tempted to post the Boris Johnson spoof version of "Always look on the Bright Side of life" - not least because, like the version my friends used to sing at discos, it replaced "Bright side" with my surname.

However, it had too many things in it which I would not want to appear to be supporting.

However, instead here is a version with the original soundtrack but scenes from the war in Ukraine.

Trigger warning - some of these images display a rather dark sense of humour and I would recommend that anyone who is very easily offended does not click on the above clip. 

Quote of the day 7th May 2022


 

Friday, May 06, 2022

Cumberland Council election results summary

Here is a link to the page with the details of the election results for the new Cumberland Council which will meet as a "shadow authority" over the next ten and a bit months and take office on 1st April 2023.

Cumberland Council election - 5 May 2022 | Shadow Authority for Cumberland Council

At that time the existing County and District councils in Cumbria will be abolished and their powers and duties assigned to the two new unitary councils.  Existing county and district councillors will continue to serve until then.

I congratulate all those who were elected to the new councils and wish them well. I would also like to thank all those who voted for me.




Music to start the weekend: "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life"


There was a stage of my life when, whenever I went to a disco, my friends would always request this song, and loudly sing my surname instead of "bright side."

It seems rather appropriate in the present circumstances ...

Quote of the day 6th May 2022


 












"It's the economy, stupid" was one of three themes coined during the 1992 US Presidential election by Bill Clinton's election strategist James Carville to remind the campaign team of which issues to focus on.

The quote is often wrongly attributed to Clinton himself.

Yesterday and today have not been great days for the Conservatives in Cumbria or many other parts of the country. There were probably multiple causes for this: the so-called "partygate" issue did come up on the doorstep but I don't think it was the biggest problem for the Conservatives.

There is little doubt in my mind that the main cause of the Conservatives' difficulties in these local elections has been the serious hit to living standards caused by the rise in the cost of living, particularly but not only the hikes in energy prices.

These increases are by no means all the fault of the present UK government but we have a responsibility to help people to deal with them. The biggest lesson of this week's elections is that voters want more action to address the cost of living. We ignore this at our peril.


Thursday, May 05, 2022

Polls are now open

Polls are now open in local elections in the UK and will remain open until 10pm.

In Northern Ireland, there are elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly: in England, Scotland and Wales there are elections to various local councils. 

In Scotland and Wales there are elections for all local councils. In England there are elections to 146 principal councils (this means a County, City, District, Borough, or Unitary council) and about a thousand parish councils.

These include the new unitary authorities which will replace Cumbria County Council and the six districts in Cumbria on 1st April next year. The new Cumberland Council will replace the existing authorities in the area currently covered by Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland, the new Westmorland and Furness council will replace the current councils in Barrow-in Furness, Eden, and South Lakeland.

There are two other new unitary authorities in Somerset and West Yorkshire being elected for the first time. The creation of these four new unitary councils will mean that figures quoted this evening and tomorrow about how many council seats each party nationally has won or lost in England need to be treated with caution - the four new unitary councils will have significantly fewer councillors than the bodies they replace.

If you have your polling card to hand, it will save you time at the polling station to take it with you and produce it. However, you do not need your polling card to vote.  

Quote of the day 5th May 2022

A thought for every election candidate today.


 

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Second quote of the day, 4th May 2022

"What's wonderful is seeing the same Labour supporters who demanded Boris should resign after eating a piece of cake suddenly - and without any sense of irony or self-awareness - screaming "it was only a curry...there are more important issues...can't you eat at work" etc..."

(Dan Hodges on Twitter)

I agree with Dan. There should be one law for everyone - and perhaps everyone in politics should look a bit harder at how well their own side has done at respecting it before yelling at their opponents.


Quote of the day for Star Wars day (May 4th) - so this is how liberty dies

"So this is how liberty dies - with thunderous applause." 

Line from Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) spoken by Senator Padme Amidala, played by Natalie Portman.



Today is often humorously described as Star Wars day (on the basis of the pun "May the 4th be with you.") But my quote today from one of the Star Wars films is anything but humorous. 

Not everyone likes the Star Wars prequel trilogy - though it's far more popular than the sequel one - but in my humble opinion the three films, Episodes I to III, and the Clone wars series brilliantly depict the fall of a once-great democracy. A story which has far more relevance to our own day than I like, though this should be seen as a statement of warning of the threats we need to avoid rather than one of despair that we are on the same track as the Republic was in those films.

Here is a Youtube essay on the subject by "Arkan the Amerikan" which I think is very powerful. (Warning - it lasts an hour and eighteen minutes.)


I would argue that Democracy, in many if not all countries, is proving stronger and more resilient than either its' enemies or some pessimists would have you believe.

However, in the face of so many threats to our freedoms, both obvious and more insidious, from open enemies of democracy like Vladimir Putin to those who would limit democracy in the sincere belief that they are preserving it, nobody can afford to be complacent about those threats. If liberty and democracy ever do die in this country, it will indeed be to the sound of thunderous applause.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Action on HRT supply - new taskforce head appointed

It has also been announced today that the Vaccine Taskforce Director General will head a newly formed Hormone Replacement Therapy Taskforce to address issues in the supply chain, leaving no stone unturned to make sure women can access the HRT they need. 

  • Women across the country rely heavily on HRT – and thanks to greater awareness around the menopause demand for HRT has risen by 38 per cent. 
  • That is why the government has acted to appoint Madeline McTernan, Vaccine Taskforce Director General, to harness the lessons from the pandemic to head the newly formed HRT Taskforce, easing supply chain pressures and engaging with suppliers to improve the understanding of what is driving shortages. 
  • This will ensure that HRT – which is a lifeline for many women across the country – is accessible to all women who need to access these vital services.

British troops deployed to support NATO

It has been announced today that 8,000 British troops will deploy across Europe this summer in planned exercises, demonstrating solidarity and strength with our NATO allies in one of the largest shared deployments since the Cold War.

  • The security of Europe has never been more important – and it is only right we use our world class Armed Forces in a show of solidarity and strength with our allies against Russian aggression.
  • That is why around 8,000 British troops will conduct a series of planned exercises across Europe this summer – including the deployment of 120 Warrior armoured fighting vehicles and launching Exercise Arrow aimed specifically at deterring Russian aggression – alongside our NATO allies and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a UK-led security coalition.
  • Britain stands alongside our partners, combining our capabilities and shared values to promote peace and security across Europe, demonstrating our Army’s central role in deterring Russian aggression.

Quote of the day 3rd May 2022

"We need to be more clear-eyed about the dangers posed by the enemies of the nation."

"On the one hand, we might point to the metropolitan left, which harbours unrealistic ideas about immigration and asylum. There are perhaps a couple of billion people on the planet who would come here if they could, often fleeing sectarian conflict. If they were all allowed to come here in the name of compassion, the miracle in which they were seeking to partake would vanish. Nations without borders are not nations.

I disagree with significant details of the Rwanda policy, but I am confident that offshoring of a more humane kind is the only coherent solution to the challenge of mass migration. Asylum and immigration offer huge benefits but only when they are controlled to ensure assimilation and consent.

On the other hand are the super-rich who accrue wealth by taking advantage of the intricate tapestry of social obligations upon which nations depend, and then illegally offshore their tax liabilities. I would include in this category aggressive tax avoiders."

(Matthew Syed, extracts from an article in this week's Sunday Times about the value of national pride and patriotism)

Monday, May 02, 2022

Quote of the day 2nd May 2022

"It felt like Einstein was being harassed by an intelligent lettuce."

Extract from a comment by "CD13" on the Political Betting website.

Here is the full quote

"I listened to a 'defence expert' who was a real expert on BBC recently. He was giving a very clear and concise explanation of the invasion, and the reasons it had bogged down. He was continually being interrupted by the interviewer with questions he'd just answered and irrelevant ones. She was reading from a crib sheet and not even listening to his answers.

As soon as he reached an interesting point, she'd interrupt with a barmy question of her own. Just let him speak, I found my self saying. It felt like Einstein was being harassed by an intelligent lettuce.

I thought the journalists had learned from the embarrassing debacle of some of the Covid press conferences. Obviously not."

The sinking of the General Belgrano, forty years on

Forty years today on 2nd May 1982, during the Falklands conflict, the Royal navy submarine HMS Conqueror fired three Mk VIII torpedoes at the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano. Two of them hit the cruiser which sank with the loss of over three hundred lives. (The official Argentine death toll is 323 though it was often alleged by people on both sides of the subsequent controversy that the Argentine authorities understated the casualty figures and that the real number of deaths was higher, with figures up to 368 being quoted.)

This action effectively took the Argentine navy, which up to that point had been a significant threat to the British task force, out of the war: Argentine surface and submarine naval forces retired to their territorial waters and made no further attempts to interfere in British operations to recover the Falkland Islands. This effectively doomed the Argentine garrison, though liberating the islands did not seem as easy or straightforward at the time as the scale of the British victory can make it appear in hindsight.

As Mrs Thatcher was subsequently to point out, only in Britain could a government face lasting criticism for an operation during a military conflict which removed a major enemy unit with no casualties on our own side and made it significantly easier to win that conflict.

Documents subsequently released demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that subsequent allegations that the sinking was a war crime are without any valid basis in international law and are rooted in a misunderstanding of the facts.

In fact the only war crime in connection with the sinking was committed by the Argentine air force.

Much was made of the fact that the Belgrano was outside the "Total Exclusion Zone" at the time of the attack, but this zone was mainly a warning to neutral shipping. The British government had given clear warning on 23rd April 1982, more than a week before the attack on the Belgrano, that Argentine naval and air units operating in the vicinity of the Falklands Islands could and would be attacked if they were perceived as a threat to British forces, regardless of whether they were inside or outside the Zone or its predecessor. 

Interviews with senior Argentine navel personnel published by Martin Middlebrook in his book "Argentine fight for the Falklands" make clear that they understood this. Rear Admiral Allara, commander of the Argentine naval task force of which Belgrano was part, said: 

“After that message of 23 April, the entire South Atlantic was an operational theatre for both sides."

Of the allegations made in the years after the conflict by he so-called "peace movement" and by campaigners such as the late Tam Dalyell, they were correct on only one major point of contention, which was that the British government knew from intercepted signals exactly what orders had been given to the ARA General Belgrano and the rest of the Argentine Navy. 

The British authorities did not want to confirm this for reasons which should be completely obvious to anyone with a higher IQ than a cabbage - the last thing you want your actual and potential enemies to know, if it is true, is that you have cracked their codes and intercepted their messages. But documents now released under the 30-year rule indicate that UK signals intelligence had done precisely that.

Unfortunately for anyone who wanted to prove Britain guilty of a war crime, far from having ordered the Belgrano to sail for home, the message which Britain had intercepted ordered the Belgrano to sail to a destination inside the "Total Exclusion Zone" and attack the British task force. 

On the 1st of May 1982, Admiral Juan Lombardo had ordered the Belgrano and all Argentine naval units to seek out the British task force around the Falklands, and to launch a “massive attack” the following day. GCHQ intercepted and decoded that signal.

Regardless of the direction in which she happened to be steaming at the time of the attack, that cruiser was a threat to British lives and the people who ordered the attack on the Belgrano gave that order precisely because they had certain knowledge that she had been ordered to attack the task force and posed such a threat.

It is only fair to point out that even if the Dalyell and others had been right and the Argentine Junta really had ordered that Belgrano to return to base, and Britain had known this, the attack would still have been legal under international law and the UN charter. As an article in the New York International Law Review which came to that conclusion explained it,

"For the purpose of evaluating the legality of the Conqueror’s action, however, it is irrelevant. Even if the Belgrano flotilla had been ordered to withdraw, there is no suggestion that it had surrendered. Under international law, a military unit, even one that is retreating, is not entitled to safe conduct until it surrenders. It is the position of the U.S. government, for instance, that “the law of war permits the attack on enemy combatants and enemy equipment at any time, wherever located, whether advancing, retreating, or standing still.”"

The timing of events and the subsequent diplomatic positions of both governments involved does not support the suggestion that the attack was an attempt to derail the Belaunde peace plan, as Lawrence Freedman shows in the Official History of the Falklands Campaign which dismisses any such idea. Mrs Thatcher and the UK government did not see the plan until after the sinking of the Belgrano, but were subsequently supportive of it: it was the Argentine Junta which refused to consider it.   

After the Belgrano went down the British government ordered HMS Conqueror not to attack any Argentine vessel which appeared to be searching for or picking up survivors - an instruction which was. of course, scrupulously obeyed - and permitted the Argentines to send aircraft to search for survivors.

This restraint was not rewarded: the one real war crime in connection with the Belgrano sinking is that Argentine Neptune aircraft engaged in the search for survivors also used their EW capabilities to search for the British task force and passed back intelligence about the location of Royal Navy vessels. This intelligence may well have contributed to the loss of HMS Sheffield two days after that of the the Belgrano. This was a breach by Argentina of the Geneva Convention, which forbids aircraft involved in rescue missions from also taking part in offensive operations.

Mrs Thatcher always said that when the facts about the decision to attack the Belgrano came out she would be vindicated. There will always be some die-hards among both Argentine nationalists and the British people whom no evidence could convince, but most people capable of taking anything remotely resembling an impartial view will come to the conclusion that the evidence does indeed vindicate her actions.