Wednesday, August 10, 2022
“Your beliefs do not make something true."
(Judge Maya Guerra Gamble to Alex Jones at his trial for defamation, at which he was ordered to pay millions of dollars for falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook shootings did not happen and that parents of the victims were actors.)
Tuesday, August 09, 2022
Today, the NHS delivered the first milestone in the Elective Recovery Plan, virtually eliminating the longest treatment waits. There is a long way to go to resolve the backlogs that have inevitably built up during Covid, but progress is being made to do so and the plan is on track.
- Today the first phase of the plan was successfully delivered, treating more than 22,500 people who had been waiting over two years for treatment to virtually eliminate longest treatment waits; and preventing a further 51,000 patients from waiting two years or more thanks to the hard work of our NHS staff.
- Beating the Covid backlog is one of the government's top priorities and this achievement is a testament to NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard to get us here despite the significant challenges.
It's been a really bad few days for the loss of favourite singers and performers.
First Bernard Cribbins died, then Judith Durham, and now within a few hours we lose Olivia Newton-John and The Pogues' bass player Darryl Hunt dies age 72.
Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge on 26 September 1948. Her Welsh father had been an MI5 agent during World War II and had been attached to the Enigma code-breaking project at Bletchley Park.
Her mother was the daughter of the German Nobel laureate, Max Born, and had fled with her family when the Nazis came to power in 193.
In 1954 her father took up a post as a professor of German at the University of Melbourne and the family moved to Australia.
As a child Newton-John had developed a fascination with animals and harboured ambitions to be a vet but she found science a struggle at school and abandoned the idea.
Instead, she turned to music.
She began her career as a singer of country-style pop-music, but her breakthrough performance, and a complete image makeover, came with her performance as Sandy in the 1978 film "Grease." For anyone who hasn't seen the film, the character Sandy starts off as a demure young lady in twinsets and calf-length skirts, but then transforms into an electrifying sex bomb in black skin-tight trousers.
Released in 1978 and set 20 years earlier, Grease was an immediate hit, taking $160m at the box office and becoming an international phenomenon. It was the highest grossing musical movie of the 20th Century, and gave Newton-John three hit singles, You're The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted to You and Summer Nights as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Newton-John reinvented herself again. She spent more of her time as an advocate of humanitarian and health issues. She had already established herself as a campaigner for animal welfare, cancelling a tour of Japan in 1978 as a protest against the slaughter of dolphins caught in tuna nets.
She was a supporter of cancer charities, something that led to the opening of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in Melbourne.
She continued to record although many of her subsequent albums were only released in Australia where she performed at the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
In 2019 her legendary tight black trousers and leather jacket from Grease were auctioned for $405,000.
In line with her wishes, the proceeds were donated to Australian cancer research.
Her efforts in the field of fundraising for cancer research were recognised by the Queen, who honoured her with a damehood in the 2020 New Year's Honours list.
In a statement posted to her social media channels, Newton-John's husband John Easterling said she had died on Monday, hailing her "a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer".
"Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer."
Rest in Peace
Monday, August 08, 2022
Today the Health Secretary set out what steps his Department is taking to prepare our NHS for the autumn and winter months ahead – ensuring that our NHS is ready and prepared for upcoming challenges so that everyone gets the care they deserve.
- The autumn and winter months always bring additional challenges for our NHS, and we all know that the next few months in particular will bring serious challenges.
- So I was pleased to see that the Health Secretary has set out today how his Department is preparing for the autumn and winter months, including boosting the NHS workforce, addressing delayed discharge and working on a ‘pharmacy first’ model to help ease pressure on our hospitals’.
- The government is taking action now to prepare for the upcoming months to ensure everyone can access the health and care services they need and deserve.
As the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham come to an end today, the Prime Minister has thanked all those involved in putting on this extraordinary event – the legacy of which will drive trade, jobs and grows across the West Midlands for years to come.
- Over the past eleven days, volunteers, crowds, athletes and organisers made the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham the best yet.
- The Prime Minister has thanked all those involved and particularly praised the city of Birmingham for being fantastic hosts – cementing the UK’s reputation for hosting major sporting events on the global stage. The success of Birmingham 2022 will also be measured in the number of people inspired to take up sport as a result – able to do so thanks to our massive investment in grassroots sport in recent years.
- The people of the West Midlands will reap the rewards from the lasting economic legacy these Games have secured that will drive trade, jobs and growth across the region for a generation to come.
The government has tightened council accounting rules, ensuring councils use hardworking taxpayers’ money in a responsible way.
- For too long, some councils have been using unorthodox accounting practices which put hardworking taxpayers’ money at risk.
- That is why the government has tightened the rules on use of capital receipts which some authorities have attempted to bypass, as well as putting a stop to accounting firms and consultancies wasting money on creative accounting practices.
- Every council has a duty to use the tax they receive from hardworking people in a responsible way, and we will continue to do all we can to put a stop to practices which put this at risk.
Last week the government announced a £100 million funding boost to research sustainable fisheries practices, equipping our fishing industry for the future.
- Our world-class fishing and seafood sectors are packed full of expertise – but we must continue to ensure these excellent schemes have the financial backing to succeed.
- That is why the government is investing £100 million of taxpayers' money through the UK Seafood Fund to research ground-breaking sustainable fisheries practices, delivering 17 pioneering projects to promote the sustainable management of our world-class fisheries.
- This investment will not only cement our fishing industry’s reputation as one of the best in the world but will elevate its potential even further.
Following on from my article last night about Moscow and Amnesty, I thought it would provide some helpful balance after the extensive and selective quoting of what Amnesty wrote suggesting that Ukrainian troops had been posted in residential areas, if I were to quote some of the things Amnesty International has also written about war crimes and human rights violations by Russia.
"The invasion has triggered a huge human rights, humanitarian, & displacement crisis that has the makings of the worst such catastrophe in recent European history. Russia is breaching the sovereignty of Ukraine & challenging the global security architecture."
Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
"The people of Kharkiv have faced a relentless barrage of indiscriminate attacks in recent months, which killed and injured hundreds of civilians"
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser
"This attack is yet another example of the Russian military’s utter disregard for civilians in Ukraine."
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, comments on Russian air strikes on an apartment block and beach resort hotel in the coastal town of Serhiivka in southern Ukraine which killed at least 21 civilians, following an on-the-ground investigation.
"The International Criminal Court, and all others with jurisdiction over crimes committed during this conflict, must investigate this attack as a war crime."
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, commenting after an extensive investigation by Amnesty International concluded that Russian military forces committed a war crime when they struck the Mariupol drama theatre in Ukraine in March, killing at least dozen people and likely many more.
“This horrific assault is yet another apparent example of complete disregard for human life and dignity in Ukraine committed by Russian forces. All those suspected of criminal responsibility must be investigated and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecuted in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts and without recourse to death penalty.
“Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Amnesty International has documented crimes under international law, like summary killings of captives by Russia-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces.
“International law is clear: prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment, and should be given immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The relevant authorities must fully respect the rights of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.”
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, responds to a video which appears to show Russian solders committing a hideous atrocity against a Ukrainian prisoner of war.
“This is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law on so many counts.
“The three were members of the Ukrainian regular forces and under the Geneva Conventions, as prisoners of war, they are protected from prosecution for taking part in hostilities. The only exception is prosecution for alleged war crimes, in which case there must be sufficient admissible evidence, and fair trial standards must be ensured. Not only this is not the case in this scenario – they were not tried by an independent, impartial regularly constituted court but by Russian proxies. The so-called ‘charges’ against them would not constitute war crimes. And most outrageously of all, the taking of their lives as result of the grossly unfair proceedings would constitute arbitrary deprivation of life.
“In fact, wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the right to a fair and regular trial constitutes a war crime. Russia, as the occupying power, bears responsibility for the treatment of all prisoners of war and others deprived of their liberty. They must ensure this so-called ‘sentence’ is immediately quashed, and that these men are treated in full compliance with international humanitarian law.”
Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, responding to the news that a separatist “court” in Russia-occupied Donetsk ordered the death of two captured two British nationals and a captured Moroccan national.
"As thousands of protesters take to the streets across Russia to denounce the war, the Kremlin remains hellbent on stifling state critics as it coerces domestic media into supporting its policies"
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director
Sunday, August 07, 2022
Coverage over the last few days in both the MSM and on social media of what Amnesty International has written about the war in Ukraine has been astonishingly selective in a way which has been unwittingly helpful to Russian propagandists.
I understand that since the start of Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine, Amnesty has published about forty reports into the war. And that all forty of those reports have been severely critical of Russia's actions. Thirty nine of these reports condemned just Russia. One report, published a few days ago, included criticism of both sides, though perhaps unwisely it was headlined "Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians."
I share some of the concerns which have been expressed by Ukrainian representatives from President Zelenskiyy downwards about this report. It is not surprising that Russian propagandists have selectively quoted it to bring out the criticisms Amnesty International made about the Ukrainian military while ignoring the far more serious criticisms Amnesty has also made about the Russian government and military.
However, I think it is important that we do not allow Russia to establish the false narrative that Amnesty has been critical of Ukraine's actions and not been far more critical of Russia's.
Even if we just looked at the recent report which included criticism of Ukraine, Amnesty also said in that report that the Ukrainian tactics of which it is critical, quote,
"in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians."
Amnesty International wrote that in parts of Ukraine in which, quote,
"Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military".
The Amnesty international report also refers to, quote,
"Indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces
Many of the Russian strikes that Amnesty International documented in recent months were carried out with inherently indiscriminate weapons, including internationally banned cluster munitions, or with other explosive weapons with wide area effects."
Amnesty International has published plenty of other reports which are unequivocally critical of Russia's war crimes during the illegal invasion of Ukraine - which Amnesty describes in exactly those terms.
Amnesty calls "Russia's War on Ukraine," quote,
"a devastating human rights crisis," adding
"Right now, people in Ukraine are facing a human rights crisis. People are dying, including children, and many more are at risk.
As Russia continues its war against Ukraine, Amnesty International is exposing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and gathering evidence from our researchers on the ground and our Crisis Evidence Lab. From the devastation of Izium to the siege of Mariupol, from shelling in Kyiv to displaced people in Lviv, we’re helping to keep the world informed about what is happening in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, his government and the Russian armed forces are desperate to hide the truth about the war, including the possible war crimes they are committing in Ukraine."
Now, given Russia's track record of using and abusing any information it can to play into false narratives I do think that Amnesty International was very unwise to risk allowing their work to be misrepresented by Russian propagandists, as it sadly has been, and has a duty to be more vigorous than they have yet been in rebutting such false narratives.
Sadly, Amnesty has form for falling into this kind of Russian trap, as they did last year over the jailed Russian opposition leader and survivor of an attempted state Russian assassination attempt, Alexei Navalny.
Russia, on the other hand, has form for attacking hospitals which are full of patients and doctors and were not occupied by Ukrainian military personnel, and then publishing propaganda falsely claiming the hospitals concerned were no longer in use as medical facilities but had been taken over by Ukrainian military units and imaginary Nazis.
Anyone reporting or commenting on the war in Ukraine has a moral duty and a duty to the truth to bend over backwards to avoid publishing anything which can be abused to play into such false narratives.
The truth is that most Ukrainian military units who are in or near residential areas are there because Russian forces are attacking those areas.
In Putin's illegal war, one side, Russia, is the aggressor and the other side, Ukraine, is the victim, and there is no moral equivalence between them.
In every war there will be mistakes and atrocities on both sides, and those responsible on each side must be held to account. But the current war is a war between good and evil, and there have been far more atrocities perpetrated on the Russian side than on that of Ukraine.
Saturday, August 06, 2022
The government has announced an extension in funding for victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, making sure that all victims of terrorism can continue to access support services.
- This year marks the fifth anniversary of several horrific terrorist attacks that took place in 2017 and we are all coming to recognise that victims can be affected in more ways than many of us could ever contemplate.
- So the government is extending funding to Cruse Bereavement Support, the Peace Foundation, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and Victim Support – providing 24/7 support lines, mental health assessments and referrals, bereavement support, and long-term peer support networks.
- This funding will make sure those affected by terrorist attacks can be provided with practical and emotional support to work through these traumatic events, and continue to access support services for as long as they need them.
"Know we're not allowed to ask this. But given Labour are saying the Tories have let inflation spiral out of control, what's their proposal?
They don't support wage restraint.
They oppose the interest rate rises.
They don't back public spending cuts.
They oppose tax hikes."
(Dan Hodges,journalist and former Labour and Trade Union staffer, on Twitter yesterday.
It's a rather good question, isn't it. At least Rishi and Liz are putting forward proposals. What would Labour actually do if they won an election?)
Friday, August 05, 2022
In May 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 at the time, 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 independent Best Practice Review into the case has now been published and is available on the Safeguarding Children Partnership website at
The information that has come out through the trial and this report was shocking and distressing.
I believe that we need a task and finish group of the Council's scrutiny committees to go through this report and ensure that all the lessons it identifies have been learned and fully implemented.
After tragedies like this politicians always say things like "This must never happen again," which is the right thing to aim for, but far too often it still does. Let's do what we can to make sure this is not one of those times.
"The main pressure is external ... but we've got another thing going on that is domestic: the size of the labour force has shrunk ... The first thing that every firm wants to talk to me about is 'I can't hire enough people'."
The above is a quote from the Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey in an interview this week.
This is why the most urgent task for whoever becomes PM in a month's time is to sort out Britain's long-term problem of anaemic growth in productivity. There is no simple solution to this and neither left nor right have all the answers, which are likely to include more investment - and therefore decent returns on investment - more imaginative management, fewer restrictive labour practices and, most difficult of all, genuine reform of the housing market which should feature both a better planning balance which allows more houses to be built where they are needed but with the necessary supporting infrastructure, and making it less of a nightmare to buy or sell a property.
Members of the Allerdale and Copeland local committees of Cumbria County Council have been listening to a presentation this morning of the refugees from troubled areas over the world who have come to Cumbria, from Syria and Afghanistan to Ukraine, and about how they are supported.
It took a while to get off the ground, from which we need to learn lessons, but now more than 100,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK through our Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.
Thank you to everyone across the UK who has opened their home to those forced to flee Ukraine due to Putin's barbarism.
Are any of the offences of which the leader of the opposition has just been found serious enough that a reasonable person would call for Sir Keir's resignation?
In my opinion no, so I'm not.
Are all of them more serious than some of the things for which Sir Keir called for Boris Johnson's resignation? Absolutely yes.
It is a matter of objective fact that if Sir Keir held himself to the same standards he demanded of the current PM, he would have resigned months ago.
So while I am not calling for his resignation, I do think it is fair to call him a sanctimonious hypocrite.
Today the government has announced £44.2 million in funding for community forests, planting millions of trees to expand woodlands near to where people live, giving more people greater access to nature to improve their health and wellbeing.
- Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all rely on nature – community forests and woodland improves the lives of communities and provides the green infrastructure needed to support regional growth.
- That is why the government is investing £44.2 million of taxpayers' money in planting 2,300 hectares of trees, the equivalent of 3,220 football pitches – to absorb 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, delivering on our ambition to treble tree planting by the end of this Parliament and reach Net Zero.
- This is good use of taxpayers' money because it will reduce ﬂood risk, provide sustainable UK grown timber, greater access to nature to improve health and wellbeing, and create more green jobs – helping spread economic growth across the country.
Thursday, August 04, 2022
The government has announced a £37 million funding boost for renewable energy innovation across the UK, securing our energy sovereignty and slashing our dependency on fossil fuels for years to come.
- The rise in global gas prices and Putin’s war in Ukraine means securing the UK’s energy sovereignty is more pressing than ever – and accelerating home-grown renewables is central to that mission.
- That is why the government have announced £37 million for innovative biomass projects across the UK – including 12 projects off the North Yorkshire coast and announcing the 22 winners of the first stage of our Hydrogen bioenergy with carbon capture and storage programme, backed with £5 million
- This £37 million of investment is good use of taxpayers' money as it will support innovation across the UK, boosting jobs whilst ensuring greater energy security for years to come.
- And yes, it important to remember that all government money is in fact taxpayers' money - it comes from all of us.
Wednesday, August 03, 2022
Society makes progress in dealing with mental health but it can be painfully slow.
Three or four hundred years ago those who suffered certain types of mental illness faced a real danger of being hanged as witches or tortured and mutilated by the public executioner for blasphemy.
Two hundred years ago you could go to certain of the most infamous of the places where people with mental illness were confined and pay to "torment" the inmates.
One hundred years ago, while the treatment had become slightly more compassionate, society still wanted to put away out of sight those it had labelled as insane and lock them away in huge institutions in the countryside - sometimes not for any real mental illness but as a way of removing from public view people who had committed social misdemeanors. Women who bore a child out of wedlock, or someone from a wealthy family who was caught shoplifting might be labelled as insane and packed off to a sanatorium. The penalty could be more severe than the criminal justice system of the early 20th century would have imposed - as it could effectively be life imprisonment.
When I was appointed as a health authority member in the late 1980's there were still a few elderly women, now institutionalized beyond hope of discharge, in some of the mental health hospitals in the area who had been sent there for bearing an illegitimate child.
By that time the NHS was moving towards "care in the community" which is a policy which I strongly supported then and now as long as it does mean care and not, as has occasionally happened here and in other countries, chucking people out of the front door without a proper package of care in place. But there was real resistance at the time from people who assumed anyone with mental issues is dangerous. A very small proportion of mental health patients really are dangerous, and society needs to be protected from them, but most are not.
We continue to move forward, but there is still a stigma about mental health which makes it difficult for many people suffering from stress, depression or other such conditions to seek help, and although governments of all parties say they want mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health, we are some way off achieving this.
The local newspapers picked up some comments I and others made on the subject at the last Health Scrutiny meeting - you can read their report of the meeting in the online version of the Whitehaven News at
Tuesday, August 02, 2022
Better energy efficiency is both a means of protecting the environment and a means of helping everyone - including public services such as schools and hospitals - cope with higher energy bills.
So the government is setting up a fund of up to £635 million to help our public services deal with high gas prices – helping to save taxpayer’s money and protect those public services.
- There is no time like the present to help public organisations become more efficient and move off expensive gas.
- That is why we have announced an investment of up to £635 million for public buildings such as schools and hospitals to invest in energy efficiency upgrades.
- This investment is an important step towards making our public sector more efficient – saving taxpayer’s money, creating tens of thousands of jobs and cutting our link to expensive gas.
"Jesus told us you'd better think of the beam in your own eye before judging other people. And that's been my attitude ... I don't like judging people if I can avoid it."
(Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor, from an interview in the Sunday Times magazine last weekend as he steps down from the House of Lords. If you are willing to get through the paywall - they are offering a free trial - you can find the interview here.)
Monday, August 01, 2022
The government is creating a Levelling Up Parks Fund – creating new and improved parks in urban areas as part of the project to level up our communities.
- Access to nature provides sanctuary from the bustling streets of our towns and cities, and is good for our health and wellbeing - so it is right that we upgrade and improve these spaces.
- That is why we have announced our Levelling Up Parks Fund – creating or improving over 100 new and improved green spaces in areas such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Carlisle, as well as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – backed by an investment of £9 million.
- This funding will ensure that people from all backgrounds have access to nature while supporting tree planting within public spaces in our urban communities.
Today the government announced that the £368 million Youth Investment Fund has opened for bids to local authorities – improving the health, wellbeing and career prospects for young people as we level up opportunity.
- Ensuring young people can succeed – regardless of where they are born – is central to our levelling up agenda, and we are determined to ensure nobody is left behind.
- That is why our £368 million Youth Investment Fund opened for bids in 46 local authorities and more than 600 district wards in some of England’s most deprived areas, helping to build or refurbish up to 300 youth facilities as safe spaces to socialise and help support them into employment.
- These opportunities will help local young people develop the skills they need for life and work, while improving their wellbeing and employability.
When I previously referred to this comment from American economist Thomas Sowell, in May, I wrote that
"This quote is so true and so utterly relevant to the current state of affairs in public discourse that I am seriously tempted to repost it on a regular basis once per month."
While I don't think it would be effective to do that, I am using it again to inaugurate a new category of Quote of the Month.