Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Midweek music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 Mandolins in G major

Consulting on a Social Housing rent cap

Today, sees the launch of a consultation on a social housing rent cap, as the government seeks ways to protect vulnerable families from global inflationary pressures. 

  • As we tackle global inflationary pressures, government support must be made available to those most in need and to the most vulnerable, especially from rising bills. 
  • So the government is launching a consultation on a proposed rent cap for the coming financial year, preventing rents for council and housing association homes from rising significantly to save tenants an average £300 per year alongside our £37 billion support package. 
  • Putting a cap on rent increases for social tenants will provide security and stability to the most vulnerable families in these exceptional times. 

Recruiting more police officers

Today, the Prime Minister is joining new police officer recruits working on the frontline, supporting their fight against crime as we build back safer. 

  • Recruiting more police and making our streets safer was a key Conservative manifesto pledge at the last election and is central to our mission to level up this country. Everyone should have the security that comes from having a safe street and safe home, wherever they live. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister is joining new police officers working on the frontline today and will speak to officers from one of the 20 Violence Reduction Units set up by this Government and backed by £170 million of funding, seeing first-hand the work they are doing to crack down on violent crime. 
  • The government is determined to crack down on the vile gangs who are ruining people's lives, and put dangerous offenders behind bars for longer. At the heart of these efforts are the 13,790 extra police officers hired across England and Wales providing the firepower to keep our communities safe. 

Quote of the day 31st August 2022

 "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

(Joint statement by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at their first meeting. They went on to agree a number of arms reduction treaties and end the Cold War for a generation.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Mikhail Gorbachev RIP

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the former Soviet Union, has died aged 91.

Mr Gorbachev, who took over as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, is best known for opening up the USSR and for his rapprochement with the West.

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact through which it dominated Eastern Europe split apart between 1990 and 1991: a more hardline leader might have ordered repressive measures to stop it, but the most likely result would have been a bloodbath. 

Hardliners and Russian Nationalists at the time and subsequently have blamed Gorbachev and his reformist policies for demise of the USSR but, frankly, he deserves great credit for the fact that it happened relatively peacefully. If the coup against him had succeeded it would not have saved the USSR but ensured that it fell apart violently instead at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.

The hospital where Mr Gorbachev he died said he had been suffering from a long and serious illness.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deepest condolences on Mr Gorbachev's death, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency Interfax, according to Reuters.

Boris Johnson said:

"I'm saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev. 

I always admired the courage & integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. 

In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all."

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, wrote

"Mikhail Gorbachev was a trusted and respected leader. He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain. It opened the way for a free Europe.

This legacy is one we will not forget. 

R.I.P Mikhail Gorbachev"

Mr Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and de facto leader of the country, at the age of 54.

He was at the time the youngest member of the ruling council known as the Politburo, and was seen as a breath of fresh air after several ageing leaders.

His policy of glasnost, or openness, allowed people to criticise the government in a way which had been previously unthinkable.

Internationally he reached arms control deals with the US and refused to intervene when eastern European nations rose up against their Communist rulers.

He is seen in the West as an architect of reform who created the conditions for the end of the Cold War.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 "for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations".

There is a lovely account by the BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg on the BBC site called "Remembering a warm-hearted and generous man" which says more about Mikhail Gorbachev the human being than anything else I have seen. You can read it in full here.

Rest in Peace. 

Tuesday music spot: Overture from "Orpheus in the Underworld" by Offenbach

International co-operation on inflationary pressures

The government announced today that the Chancellor will travel to the United States of America to hold talks on global inflationary pressures – ensuring the UK leads an international response to inflation and helping households with the cost of living. 

  • Inflationary pressures from the war in Ukraine are affecting countries across the world, so we must work with our international partners and allies to create a fairer and more resilient economy at home and abroad. 
  • That is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer will travel to the United States of America to hold talks with officials and business leaders, where he will discuss the global economic outlook, energy security, and financial resilience.
  • These talks will ensure that the UK remains at the vanguard of the global response to cost of living pressures, helping to support households across the UK with rising bills. 

Help with the cost of energy

To help with the rising cost of energy, households will start receiving the £400 Energy Bills discount in six instalments from October.

Connecting people to Gigabit Broadband

The government announced that 70 per cent of homes and businesses are now able to access gigabit-capable broadband as Project Gigabit enters a new phase – helping over 20 million households and businesses to access lightning-fast internet.

  • The benefits of faster broadband cannot be understated – helping businesses to move online, creating jobs, and levelling up homes and communities.
  • That is why the government has been rolling out the £5 billion Project Gigabit – and in three years has increased the coverage of gigabit-capable broadband from seven per cent to 70 per cent, with more than 20 million households and businesses now able to tap into rapid and reliable internet. 
  • Better broadband work will mean those living in rural areas can enjoy 21st century speeds in the home and workplace, making their lives easier and more productive. 
  • In the interests of full transparency I should make clear that I am an employee of Openreach and a shareholder in BT, but an not posting on behalf of either company: all the information in this post comes from public domain government or Conservative party sources and views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of BT or Openreach.

Quote of the day 30th August 2022


Monday, August 29, 2022

Bank Holiday Monday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto for Lute in D Major


Apologies to anyone who was unable to access the John Williams version. 

I do wish YouTube and content owners could reach a more user-friendly agreement to indicate whether a clip hosted on the YouTube platform can be shared.

It is extremely frustrating when you find an amusing or informative clip, or a lovely piece of music, there is an app on the site allowing and encouraging you to share it, but if you do you may find shortly afterwards that it is blocked by the content/copyright owner from being seen. Not sure whether this is down to YouTube or the content owners, but you would think they could come up with a way of indicating on clips affected a notice saying something like "This video cannot be shared to other sites."

Or just deactivate and grey out the "share" button.

Help for Households - Cost of Living support


If you know anyone in the UK who is suffering because of the cost of living crisis, here is a link to a site where you or they can check that they are accessing all the help which is already available. 

I am certain that whether Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss wins they will quickly take further action to help people deal with this, but you can see what is already on the table as part of the £37 billion package of government support here.

Quote of the day 29th August 2022

"Whilst anti-Semitic incidents are highest among the religiously motivated in the US, an unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism is also being seen in the UK. A recent HJS report identified a 173 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the last five years in schools across the country. But where are the throngs of protestors against the climbing intolerance? Why is it that, in the age of anti-racism, the longest-standing victim group in the world has the smallest support base?

The writer and comedian David Baddiel is right: the title of his book is “Jews Don’t Count”. Why not? Because they are not the right kind of victim: too white, and perceived to be too rich and too powerful. Contemporary anti-Semitism is drawing on centuries-old bigotry, its hardy spores impenetrable to “progressive” elements.

The present woke agenda dictates that “white people” are blessed with “white privilege” and therefore cannot suffer racism. The extreme Left dictates that not only do white people enjoy wealth and power, but they are also intent on dominating minorities of colour since they are embedded in institutions.  By such a rationale, the Jewish community is the epitome of the stereotypical oppressor. Yet here is the Jewish community, branded by the far-Left as white oppressors, suffering the highest levels of discrimination of any religious minority group in the US."

(Charlotte Littlewood, extract from an excellent piece on some of the causes of modern Anti-Semitic racism on "The Article" website which you can read in full here.)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Saturday music spot: The Seekers, "Georgy Girl"

MP and Mayor joint statement on The Waverley Hotel, Whitehaven

 It was announced this week that the Waverley Hotel in Whitehaven will be used as accommodation for Asylum seekers.

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, and Mike Starkie, Elected Mayor of Copeland, issued the following joint statement this week:

“We have very recently been informed of the private arrangement between the Home Office and a new hotel owner, to house asylum seekers in The Waverley Hotel, Whitehaven.

“We would like to make it clear to the public that the council has not received any financial incentive for this initiative, and has not been consulted on the matter, before the agreement was made between the private hotel owner and the contractor for the provision of government services.

“However, we are committed to playing our part, where we can, to secure the best possible outcome for all involved. 

“We are expecting the people to arrive early next week, and now that we are aware of the matter, we will be reaching out to the new hotel owners to ensure all the correct licences are in place, if needed, and will be regularly meeting with the agencies responsible for the programme, to ensure it runs smoothly.

“This includes meetings with Cumbria Constabulary, The Home Office and Cumbria County Council.

“We hope to meet with the asylum seekers personally, to help agencies reinforce our expectations for their stay in the borough and hear their stories.

“We are also speaking to colleagues across the country to learn from their experience and ensure that we have the right things in place for both our residents and visitors, where it is our place to do so.

“We look forward to updating residents as the situation progresses, and we meet the people involved.”

Quote of the day 27th August 2022

For the avoidance of doubt I was not thinking of any particular UK politician when I selected this saying of US economist Thomas Sowell as my quote for today.

I will admit that there is a particular US politician of whom the quote appears particularly appropriate to him and to anyone honourable who still supports him or votes for candidates he endorses.

However, the main reason for the quote is a warning against people of all shades of politics and on both sides of the Atlantic.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Music to start the weekend: Vivaldi's Concerto in C major RV 558

Helping resolve the NHS Backlog - 50 new surgical hubs

The government has just announced the opening of 50 new surgical hubs, backed by £1.5 billion, delivering millions more operations to bust the backlogs in our NHS and ensure everyone gets the care they deserve.

  • The pandemic put unprecedented strain and pressure on our health service and is it right that we bust the backlogs and ensure every patient can access and receive the care they deserve.
  • So it is fantastic news that the government will deliver over 50 new surgical hubs that will provide at least 100 more operating theatres and 1,000 more surgical beds,  providing almost two million extra routine operations over the next three years – reducing waiting times and offering one million patients waiting for surgery access to vital procedures. This is in addition to the 91 surgical hubs already open.
  • These vital beds will be ring fenced for planned operations, reducing the risk of short-notice cancellations, giving patients peace of mind and ensuring they receive the care they deserve.
  • £188 million of the money will be coming here to the North West, where it is expected to provide more than 150,000 operations over the next three years and an additional 70,000 outpatient appointments.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

"In order to bust the Covid backlogs and keep pace with future demands, we can’t simply have business as usual. Surgical hubs are a really tangible example of how we are already innovating and expanding capacity to fill surgical gaps right across the country, to boost the number of operations and reduce waiting times for vital procedures.

We have already made progress in tackling the longest waiting lists to offer patients quicker access to treatment, and these new surgical hubs will in their own right deliver additional operations over the next three years, including over 200,000 this year alone."

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, added:

"Surgical hubs are a vital part of plans to recover elective services across England and these new sites will be a welcome boost in helping us to further tackle the covid-19 backlogs that have inevitably built up over the pandemic.

The NHS has made significant progress already, virtually eliminating two year waits for care by the end of July and from surgical hubs to robotic surgery, our staff continue to find innovative ways to speed up care for patients."

The hubs will also help address variation in performance between trusts, as they are required to meet national standards on numbers of operations, the full use of theatre facilities, and ensuring patients are discharged on the same day as their operation. All of this will help to drive up performance across the country.

The government has worked with the NHS to identify which areas will benefit most from surgical hubs. The selection process for surgical hub locations is clinically led and aims to ensure the new hubs are connected to the right local services - such as acute hospital sites - and tackle local healthcare inequalities while promoting the best outcomes for patients and delivering value for taxpayers.

So far, locations for 20 new or expanded hubs have already been confirmed, and bids for the remaining hubs are set to be considered over the coming weeks and months as more business cases are received to determine the new sites meet design standards.

Energy Prices 2 - further action

Nobody can afford to be complacent about the enormous amount of pain which the extraordinary fuel costs will cause, particularly to the most vulnerable members of our society.

The government has already announced £43 billion in help with more this week (see previous post)

But it is clear that in the face of these horrendous energy price rises more will need to be done.

In ten days' time we will have a new Prime Minister. There are two excellent candidates standing.

I hope and believe that neither will be too proud to accept and act on some of the better ideas put forward by the other.

Both Rishi Sunak's proposal for a temporary removal of VAT on energy and the proposal from Liz Truss to suspend the green taxes - hardly needed now when increased energy prices have already given everyone a far stronger incentive to save energy than the green taxes ever did - are sensible proposals which should be adopted by whichever wins.

We also need to do more in both the long and short term and do whatever it takes to help everyone, especially the most vulnerable, get through this.

Energy prices 1 - the cost of living payment

Everyone knew that today's announcement on energy costs was going to be bad, but the actual figures are extremely worrying.

Energy prices were already high for a large number of reasons before February, but it is important to stress that one man bears the whole responsibility for prices reaching these ridiculous levels and it rests with Vladimir Putin for starting his illegal invasion of Ukraine.

As another step in the action the government is taking to deal with the cost of living crisis, yesterday it was announced that over one million families claiming tax credits will receive their first Cost of Living Payment from 2 September, ensuring families have the support they need as we help people manage cost of living pressures.

  • As we tackle global inflationary pressures, we must tailor our support to protect those most in need, especially from rising energy prices.
  • That is why the £326 government payment will be paid automatically into eligible tax credit-only customers’ bank accounts between 2 and 7 September 2022. The first HMRC payments will total around £360 million – as part of our £1,200 package of support for low-income benefit claimants.
  • These payments will ensure the lowest earners in our society have the support they need to manage the cost of living – as part of our £37 billion package. Further support can be found here.

Quote of the day 26th August 2022


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Helping disabled people with the cost of living

This week the government announced that around 6 million disabled people will receive a one-off £150 Cost of Living payment from 20 September, ensuring the most vulnerable have the support they need as we help people manage cost of living pressures. 

  • Disabled people often face higher disability-related costs from care and mobility needs, so as we tackle global inflationary pressure we must tailor our support to protect those most in need.
  • That is why the government announced yesterday that, from 20 September, those being paid a qualifying disability benefit will automatically receive a one-off cost of living payment of £150 – as part of £1,200 of support for low-income benefit claimants.
  • These payments will ensure the most vulnerable in our society have the support they need to manage the cost of living - from fuel and transport to prescription costs.

Agreement with Albania on asylum seekers

Today the UK government has announced a new deal with Albania to deliver a ‘rapid removal scheme’ which is designed to ensure that Albanian asylum seekers with no right to be in the UK are returned home as soon as possible.

  • Large numbers of Albanians who do not have a valid reason to come to the UK are being lied to by people smugglers to take treacherous journeys across the channel to this country. But many of these people have no valid reason to claim asylum in the UK. If we allow people who are not genuine asylum seekers to jump the immigration queue, this will undermine confidence in our immigration system and the first people to suffer in consequence will be genuine refugees.
  • That is why the government has secured an agreement with Albania to tackle this which will start from next week. Under the agreement, Albanians’ asylum applications will be processed immediately and those with no right to be here will be returned to Albania as soon as possible. 
  • The government is taking swift action to tackle Channel crossings and save lives - the aim is to protect vulnerable Albanians and other vulnerable migrants while securing our borders.

Exam results day

Today, hundreds of thousands of students will receive their GCSE, vocational and technical qualification results, at a time when there has never been a better range of opportunities for young people.

  • The students receiving their results today are the first GCSE group in three years to sit summer exams and faced significant disruption to their studies during the pandemic.
  • That is why the government introduced unprecedented support for students – including longer assessment windows for vocational and technical qualifications – and Ofqual has taken an approach to grading to ensure outcomes reflect a mid-point between summer 2019 and 2021, as we transition back to pre-pandemic arrangements.
  • Congratulations to all the students receiving their results today and a huge thank you to everyone who helped them get to this point.

On the assassination of Darya Dugina

This post is not a tribute to the departed individual and therefore some of the rules which I normally apply to obit posts - particularly, the absolute ban on comments critical of the person who has died - will not be applied. 

However, we are still referring to the death of a human being and I would therefore ask that any comments made in response to this post are kept in good taste.

A few days ago, in the context of the attempted assassination of Sir Salman Rushdie, I quoted Noam Chomsky -

To avoid any possibility of misunderstanding, I prefixed the quote as follows:

"Yes, the quote below is posted in response to the assassination attempt against Sir Salman Rushdie, and no, I am not implying that I despise him.

The point I am making is that he would still have had the right to publish his books, and it would still have been a great wrong to try to assassinate him for doing so, even if I did despise him."

Ironically, a few days after I posted this, a commentator whose views all decent people should despise was assassinated, apparently by a bomb meant for her father whose views are equally contemptible.

In the early stages of the Moscow-backed uprising in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian ultra-nationalist Aleksandr Dugin told Russian state television that “Ukrainians need to be killed, killed, killed.” He went on to back Putin's illegal invasion this year, as did his daughter Darya who has now been assassinated.

I stand by what I wrote in the context of the attack on Salman Rushdie - it is always wrong to try to murder someone for their beliefs. Whoever was really behind the assassination of Darya Dugina, and whether the bomb was meant to kill her, or her father Aleksandr Dugin, or both, it was still murder and was still wrong.

I do not, however, believe there is any credibility at all in the Russian FSB's claim that the assassination was carried out by a Ukrainian agent. It is the Russian government, not the Ukrainian one, which has a track record for murdering people.

As Radio Free Europe put it,

"The FSB, however, does not have a reputation for solving political killings quickly or telling the truth.

The murders and attempted murders of prominent Kremlin opponents have remained unsolved or only partially resolved even after decades. No investigation was even opened into the near-fatal poisoning of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny in August 2020.

But Dugina’s case was supposedly cracked in less than 36 hours."

I would not be in the least surprised if this was a "false flag" operation by the Kremlin or a sign of a power struggle within the Russian elite - a view put forward by people who know far more about Russian politics than I would claim to. 

Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst and Kremlin critic, called the murder of Dugina a “warning” by the Russian security services to her father for his criticism of Putin.

Piontkovsky described the FSB claim that a Ukrainian agent killed Dugina as “monstrous in its self-revealing stupidity.”

Responsibility for the assassination was claimed by a little-known Russian dissident group calling itself the National Republican Army or NRA. This claim was assessed by one distinguished academic Kremlin-watcher and described using the technical term, "dodgy."

Most observers seem to regard the possibility that the NRA really did carry out the murder as an unlikely but real possibility - less likely than that it was a Russian state operation or part of a power struggle within the Russian elite, but more credible than the Russian claim that the Ukrainians were responsible.

Sadly it appears likely that the murder will only strengthen the fanaticism of those within the Russian state, including Dugin, who think that the problem with Vladimir Putin is that he's a soggy liberal.

Boris in Ukraine

Yesterday the Prime Minister visited Ukraine to mark Ukrainian Independence Day, telling Ukrainians they will win the war and they have the United Kingdom’s steadfast support.

  • The United Kingdom has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine throughout the war with Russia, supporting this sovereign country to defend itself from Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion.
  • That is why the Prime Minister travelled to Kyiv yesterday in a show of strength and solidarity as he announced a £54 million package of military support for Ukraine, telling President Zelenskyy his country can and will win the war.
  • Supporting Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s illegal invasion is something that unites us all and Britain icontinues to back the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom. 

Quote of the day 25th August 2022


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Digital trade with Ukraine

Today Britain is launching talks on a digital trade deal with Ukraine, providing much needed support for Ukrainian livelihoods following Putin’s barbaric invasion. 

  • Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has had devastating human consequences – and we must do all we can to rebuild Ukraine’s modern economy after this barbaric war. 
  • That is why we will pursue a new digital trade deal with Ukraine, helping businesses trade with the UK more efficiently through electronic transactions, e-signatures and e-contracts, building on our decision to cut tariffs on all Ukrainian goods under our existing free trade agreement. 
  • In the face of Putin’s assault, we must continue to give our Ukrainian friends all the military, humanitarian and economic support they need until Russia withdraws its forces entirely. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's message on Ukrainian Independence Day

Today is both Ukraine's Independence day and six months since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine. And so today, the Prime Minister marked the 31st Anniversary of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence, paying tribute to the brave people of Ukraine during this difficult time. 

  • Today, Ukraine’s independence is threatened once again as Putin continues his barbaric onslaught on innocent civilians. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister made clear we will continue to provide steadfast support for Ukraine as they celebrate the 31st anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union today, paying tribute to Ukraine’s brave resistance and making clear the UK will stand with Ukraine for however long it takes.
  • The UK government is also calling for more people to come forward to house those fleeing the war under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Thanks to the goodwill of tens of thousands of people, more than 115,000 Ukrainians have been given safety in the UK – and we urge anyone who has the room to come forward and join the biggest offer to shelter people fleeing war since 1946.  
  • One day Ukraine will come through this ordeal and achieve victory, and when that moment comes, we in the UK will be even prouder to be friends of Ukraine. 
  • Slava Ukraini!

Ian Leslie on the culture war

There is an interesting article by Ian Leslie on "The Critic" called "We are all culture warriors" which points out the inconsistency that those on the left who claim that the so-called "culture wars" are an unnecessary distraction started by people on the right often seem to be among those most invested in attacking aspects of culture which they disagree with. He argues that we are all culture warriors but some of us pretend not to be.

As he puts it,

"The idea of a “fabricated culture war” ginned up by right-wing media and Tory politicians is a staple of liberal-left discourse. The implicit premise seems to be that if it weren’t for those pesky culture warriors, the British people would gladly accept, for instance, that there is no meaningful distinction between a trans woman and a natal woman, or that their own country is indelibly racist. I don’t think so. Propositions like those may or may not be true, but they are, to say the very least, contentious among readers and voters at large. If leftists want to fight for them, they should. What they shouldn’t do is pretend they’re not fighting.

Here is a funny thing about Britain’s “culture war”: the people who decry it the most are those who are most invested in it. Almost every time you read an article making an accusation of culture war, it’s by someone on the left who is spraying bullets at an enemy." 

You can read the whole article here.

Social Prescribing

This week the government is launching a new trial for GPs to issue social prescriptions including walking and cycling, helping to improve the mental and physical health of people across England. Social Prescribing has been used very successfully here in Copeland and both Cumbria County Council and Copeland Borough Council have worked with the Cumbria NHS to support it in the county

  • Walking and cycling have many benefits – improving air quality in our communities, reducing congestion on our busiest streets and boosting mental and physical health so we can ease the burden on our NHS.
  • That is why this week sees the launch of a nationwide trial that will see GPs offering social prescriptions including walking and cycling – backed by £12.7 million in funding that will go towards pilot projects including adult cycle training, free bike loans and walking groups.
  • By getting people moving more through trials like this one, we can improve their health and reduce stress, prevent illnesses including heart disease and obesity, ease the burden on the NHS and save money for the taxpayer by making people healthier.

Quote of the day 24th August 2022


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The ultimate irony

The excuse given by Vladimir Putin, his sycophantic media and his toadies, bots and trolls for the illegal invasion of Ukraine was that the country he attacked was supposedly run by Nazis - ignoring inconvenient truths such as the President of Ukraine being a Jew whose grandfather was one of the few survivors of a family much of which was murdered during the holocaust by the real Nazis - which was supposedly posing a threat to Ukraine.

Much Russian propaganda throughout the conflict has been framed around a hunt for imaginary fascists and Nazis in Ukraine.

So what an irony that Putin's own regime is now showing signs of moving against the Jews in Russia. The former Chief Rabbi is now in exile having resigned rather than go along with pressure from the Kremlin on all religious leaders in Russia to back the war. Many other Jews have fled Russia. Now the regime is moving to "liquidate" the Jewish Agency which helps Russian Jews emigrate to Israel.

(The quotation marks around that word of ill omen are from an article in The Times - which also put the word in quotation marks, apparently inferring that it had been used by the Russian Foreign Ministry.)

Several successive Russian regimes going back to the Tzars have had a long and evil history of stirring up persecution against the Jews when they needed someone to blame for whatever was going wrong.

It hasn't reached the level of pogroms yet but there is enough fear among the country's Jewish population that between 20,000 and 40,000 of Russia's pre February Jewish population of 160k to 200,000 have left the country for Israel since the invasion began.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has been repeating anti-semitic tropes and there are disturbing signs of racial tension.

What an irony if a regime which started a war on the pretext of falsely accusing the country it invaded of being run by Nazis should go full-on Nazi itself.

Record numbers to go to University

This year a record number of young people will take up a place at university, following the return to exams, and will move on to the next stage of their lives as we return to normality after the pandemic.

  • The students who received their results last week are the first group in three years to sit exams and faced significant disruption to their studies during the pandemic.
  • This year 180,000 18-year-old students in England have had their place at their first choice university confirmed – the largest number recorded for an examination year and a 20 per cent increase on 2019 when exams were last sat.
  • Congratulations to all the students who received results this year – including pioneering T Level students as the first ever group to take this qualification – and a huge thank you to those who helped them get to this point.

Quote of the day 23rd August 2022

Stop and think about this quote. The point that economist Thomas Sowell is making here about the conclusions we may draw from data is not at all obvious - some might even call it counterintuitive. But it is true. 

Statistical evidence can be very useful in checking theories against the real world. But the real world is more complicated than any theory.

Sometimes the manner in which things work at the micro level can look like the opposite of what is really happening when you aggregate the data together and just look at the the macro level (or top level) data.

In some circumstances the same can be true the other way around. 

When either of these things happens, or any similar statistical freak, the hardest thing to do can be to establish which conclusion is right, and the worst thing to do is to dash ahead with your original view quoting the data in the form which suggests the conclusion you want in support. Because in that case the most likely explanation is that either conclusion can be right in particular circumstances.

Postscript - I gather that the image with the Thomas Sowell quote: "The same set of statistics can produce opposite conclusions at different levels of aggregation"  -  did not display properly for some  readers of this post in it's original form. I hope this is clearer and apologise for the inconvenience.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Exam results

Today hundreds of thousands of students will receive their A-Level, T-Level and other vocational results, at a time when there has never been a better range of opportunities for young people.

  • The students receiving their results today are the first group in three years to sit exams and faced significant disruption to their studies during the pandemic.
  • The government introduced unprecedented support for students – including advance information on exam content for the vast majority of A levels and longer assessment windows for vocational and technical qualifications – and are ensuring that grades reflect a midway point between 2019 and 2021.
  • Congratulations to all the students sitting exams this year – including pioneering T Level students as the first ever group to take this qualification – and a huge thank you to those who helped them get to this point.
  • For those don't quite get the results they wanted, there are thousands of people ready to take calls for Higher Education clearing to try to match students with places at Universities and colleges. Whatever happens, don't give up - there is a place somewhere for you.

Quotes of the day 18th August 2022

“Our duty as citizens of this republic is not only to defend the freedom that’s been handed down to us.

,We also have an obligation to learn from the actions of those who came before, to the stories of grit and perseverance of the brave men and women who built and saved this Union. In the lives of these great Americans, we find inspiration and purpose.”

“And if we listen closely, they are speaking to us down the generations. We must not idly squander what so many have fought and died for.”

“At the heart of the attack on January 6 is a willingness to embrace dangerous conspiracies that attack the very core of our nation.” 

e.g. the democratic principle that “lawful elections reviewed by the courts when necessary, and certified by the states and Electoral College, determine who serves as president.”

“If we do not condemn the conspiracies and lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct, and it will become a feature of all elections,” 

“Our nation is barreling, once again, towards crisis, lawlessness, and violence,” 

“No American should support election-deniers for any position of genuine responsibility, where their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future.”

“Our American freedom is a providential departure from history… it is said that the long arc of history bends towards justice and freedom,”  

“That’s true, but only if we make it bend.”

“Today, our highest duty is to bend the arc of history to preserve our nation and its blessings to ensure that freedom will not perish, to protect the very foundations of this constitutional republic,”

(Extracts from the concession speech given by Congresswoman Liz Cheney this week after losing a primary race to a Trump supporter - I resisted the temptation to use a much ruder word, not out or respect for Trump or those who still back him but because unlike them I respect democracy.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Action at last on the infected blood scandal

Today the government  announced that thousands of people affected by the infected blood scandal will each receive an interim compensation payment of £100,000, ensuring those impacted get the compensation they deserve.  

  • Following the publication of Sir Brian Langstaff’s interim report as part of the Contaminated Blood Inquiry, the Government has accepted the recommendation for those affected to receive compensation.
  • So the government has announced that people impacted by the contaminated blood scandal will receive tax-free interim payments of £100,000 ensuring thousands of those affected are getting the compensation they need as soon as possible without having to wait for the ongoing inquiry’s final report.
  • I am pleased that four decades after this problem began in 1975 we finally have a government commitment and action to stand by all those impacted by this horrific tragedy and it has been promised that these interim payments will start the compensation process, getting the money to those people as quickly as possible.

Midweek music spot: Christopher Tin's "Sogno di Volare," The Dream of Flight. (Civilization VI theme)

The Developing Countries Trading Scheme

This week the UK government launched the Developing Countries Trading Scheme – cutting tariffs, supporting British businesses, and helping to reduce the cost of living.  

  • Having left the EU Britain now once again sets our own trade policy - which means we have more scope to cut tariffs, support British businesses, and tailor the terms of our trading relationships with countries across the world to the specific things British businesses have to offer and that our businesses and consumers need.
  • To take advantage of this, the UK government has launched the Developing Countries Trading Scheme, which will extend tariff cuts worth £750 million on a variety of products from developing countries - from clothes and shoes to foods such as olive oil and tomatoes.
  • This scheme cuts red tape and costs for businesses, while supporting consumers with the cost of living by helping to keep prices low.
I've never made any secret that I voted Remain and if somehow sent back to 2016 knowing everything we know today I would absolutely do so again. 

However, the majority of those who cast a  ballot voted Leave and anyone who believes in democracy has to respect that decision. 

And it would be silly to pretend that Brexit doesn't have advantages as well as disadvantages. It would be even sillier not to make the most of the former while trying to minimise the latter.

Britain's ability to introduce schemes like the Developing Countries Trading Scheme is an advantage of Brexit which will help both developing countries and our own businesses and consumers by keeping prices down at a time when that is desperately needed.

Quote of the day 17th August 2022


"Never, never, never give up."

(Winston Churchill)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

New booster jab approved by the MHRA

Yesterday Britain became the first country to approve a dual vaccination that directly targets both Omicron and the original Covid-19 virus - keeping people safe and building Britain’s resilience.  

  • Although cases of Covid-19 are relatively low at present, we must not be complacent in building Britain’s resilience to the virus. 
  • So it is great new that Britain's experts on the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have  approved a dual vaccine that directly tackles both Omicron and the original Covid-19 virus, making Britain the first country to achieve this. 
  • I shall certainly take up the booster job when it is offered to me, and I - and more importantly, almost all medical professionals - strongly encourage those at higher risk of severe illness to get a booster jab in good time before the winter season.
  • Getting a booster jab will increase your protection against being severely ill from Covid-19, while also protecting those around you, as we move into winter.

Britain's new Maritime Security strategy

This week the UK government launched a new maritime security strategy, to target new and emerging threats at home and around the world.

  • To ensure the UK’s maritime security is based on informed and evidence-based decisions, we must build our knowledge of this dynamic ocean frontier. 
  • That is why the Transport Secretary set out a new maritime security strategy today, leveraging the UK’s world-leading seabed mapping to collect more accurate data, and tackling illegal fishing and polluting activities on our shores.  
  • Our new maritime security strategy paves the way for both government and industry to provide the support needed to tackle new and emerging threats, and further cement the UK’s position as a world leader in maritime security. 

Quote of the day 16th August 2022


Monday, August 15, 2022

Helping low income households get access to broadband at affordable rates

Today, the government urged all broadband providers to help low-income households access discounted mobile and internet deals, as we continue to ease the pressure of rising living costs.

  • In the face of global inflationary pressures, the government is helping households in the UK with rising costs, and continues to look at other ways to help. 
  • That is why the government has launched a new service allowing internet providers to verify, with customers’ permission, whether they are in receipt of a relevant benefit and therefore eligible for extra financial support – which will go live this week to save households hundreds of pounds a year.  
  • Some of the biggest network operators have already committed to take advantage of this new scheme, including Virgin Media O2, and I hope and expect that other providers follow their lead to that everyone eligible for a social tariff can access one. 

In the interests of full disclosure I should make clear that I am an employee of Openreach and a shareholder of the BT group. I am posting as a Conservative supporter and not as a representative of BT or Openreach. All the information in this post is public domain information from government or Conservative party sources and none of it came from Openreach or BT. Views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of BT or Openreach.

The Dame Barbara Windsor dementia mission

Yesterday the Prime Minister launched a national mission to tackle dementia in honour of Dame Barbara Windsor, doubling research funding by 2024 to beat this awful disease.  

  • Dementia is a horrible condition which affects about one in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 6 people over 80. I've seen far too many friends, family members and other people I knew and respected reduced to a kind of living death through Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and if it is bad for them, it can be worse for their families and those who love them.
  • Up to 40 per cent of dementia cases are potentially preventable, but clinical trials remain under-resourced and causes are still poorly understood. 
  • That is why the Prime Minister launched the ‘Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission’ yesterday, ringfencing £95 million to speed up research with a new Covid vaccine-style Taskforce, boosting the number of clinical trials and delivering on the Conservative our manifesto commitment to double dementia research by 2024, reaching a total of £160 million a year.  
  • Together, we can beat this awful disease and honour an exceptional woman who campaigned tirelessly for change. 
  • I cannot think of a better issue for the Prime Minister to try to make some positive progress during his last last weeks in office than to try to bring hope for those who suffer as a result of dementia.

Quote of the day 15th August 2022

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A statement from the Rushdie family


Saving water

Last week the Environment Secretary met with water companies to discuss the measures they are taking to protect water supplies in the driest summer in over 50 years.

  • We are seeing the driest conditions in the UK for over 50 years. However all water companies reassured the Environment Secretary that water supplies remain resilient. It is the duty of water companies to maintain those supplies.
  • Each water company has a pre-agreed drought plan which they are following, which includes precautionary steps to protect supplies in case the dry weather continues into the autumn. 
  • Britain is better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather but the government is are actively monitoring the situation. It also remains even more important to crack down on leakage, and the government is working witb tbe water companies to ensure that tough targets to do so are set and implemented.

Sunday music spot: "Come, ye daughters" from Bach's Matthew Passion, BWV 244

Quote of the day Sunday 14th August 2022

As some people seem determined to read the most extraordinary things into quotes I post here: for the avoidance of doubt, yes, the quote below is posted in response to the assassination attempt against Sir Salman Rushdie, and no, I am not implying that I despise him.

The point I am making is that he would still have had the right to publish his books, and it would still have been a great wrong to try to assassinate him for doing so, even if I did despise him.


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Second quote of the day 13th August 2022


"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist"

(Sir Salman Rushdie)

The attack on Rushdie was an attack on every free society and on all of us. 

And as long as it fails to unequivocally renouce the Fatwa against him, cancel and ban the reward for his assassination and indeed confiscate the reward money which was raised to pay anyone who assassinates him and hand it over as compensation to Rushdie and others injured of the families of those killed as a result of the Fatwa, Iran has set itself apart from all civilised nations and must be treated as a sponsor of terrorism and as a rogue and pariah state.

Johnson, Sunak and Truss condemn attack on Salman Rushdie

Writers and world leaders in every free country in the world have condemned the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie, is understood to be alive but on a ventilator after being stabbed in the neck and abdomen: he is in danger of losing an eye.

Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter that he was "Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend. 

Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay."

Rishi Sunak wrote that he was "Shocked to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York. 

A champion of free speech and artistic freedom. He’s in our thoughts tonight."

Liz Truss tweeted: "Disgraceful attack on Sir Salman Rushdie. People must be able to speak freely and freedom of speech must be defended.

My thoughts are with him, his family and loved ones."

The International Fund for Ukraine

The British government has agreed to expand support through the International Fund for Ukraine, as the UK continues to stand by Ukraine today, tomorrow and in the months to come.

  • Since the beginning of Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion of Ukraine Britain has sent a clear message to the Kremlin: we will not tire and we will stand by Ukraine today, tomorrow and in the months to come. 
  • That is why, alongside Denmark, Ukraine, and other key allies, we agreed to expand our International Fund for Ukraine – announcing that Britain will put £250 million of the recently announced £1 billion fund to provide military equipment and support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This support comes as the UK confirmed that we will send further multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine, alongside a significant number of precision guided M31A1 missiles. 
  • This money will create a steady flow of support for Ukrainian forces – maintaining and repairing existing resources whilst maximising Ukraine’s effectiveness on the battlefield.

Working to help people with energy bills

This week the Prime Minister hosted a roundtable with electricity generators, as we work with business to help people with rising energy prices.

  • We all know that this will be a difficult winter for people across the UK, which is why the government is taking action to support people, especially the most vulnerable, and will continue to do so.
  • Following the roundtable with electricity generators, the Prime Minister confirmed that the government will keep urging these businesses to continue working on ways we can ease the cost of living pressures, looking at further options to support families and to invest further and faster in British energy security.
  • Support already being rolled out will exceed £37 billion of government support over the coming months, including the second £324 instalment of the cost of living payment for vulnerable households. More will be needed and more will be done.

Saturday music spot: "The Wedge" Fugue by J.S. Bach

Fire risk alert

With the exceptionally hot weather, many parts of Britain are at the maximum fire risk alert. Some Fire service are experiencing record numbers of wild fires this year up by nearly 500% compared with the equivalent periods last summer.

Not all of these fires were directly caused by arson or the carelessness of a specific human action in the vicinity, but some were, particularly the careless disposal of materials related to smoking or portable or "disposable" barbecue equipment, which people have been asked not to use.

Please take great care if you are in an area where wildfires are a danger.

Quote of the day 13th August 2022


Evelyn Hall, writing under the pen-name S.G. Tallentyre in her 1906 book "The Friends of Voltaire" attributed this view to Voltaire, which he did undoubtedly hold. 

The words are usually misattributed to Voltaire himself, but they are in fact Hall's words rather than his.

No matter, they are a sound principle and the constant threats to free speech illustrated so vividly yesterday by the stabbing of Salman Rushdie illustrate so clearly why we must stand up for that principle.

Friday, August 12, 2022

On the Assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie

I was horrified to learn that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed this evening while on a public stage.

The suspect who has been arrested in connection with the incident is apparently 24 yours old - which means he wasn't born when that vicious, murderous old monster Ayatollah Khomeini issued what he was pleased to call a Fatwa but should be described as a criminal incitement to assassination against Salman Rushdie for writing the novel "The Satanic Verses" which some Muslims think is blasphemous.

There are many people who have a high opinion of Salman Rushdie's work, and they are entitled to their opinions, which I respect, but you do not have to be a fan of his work to believe that he should have the right to publish it.

I condemn the Fatwa and anyone who seeks to implement it not because I hold any particular view about the merits of Rushdie's work, but for a different reason - my attitude can be summed up in the words which Evelyn Beatrice Hall used to describe the views of Voltaire, and which are often wrongly assumed to be a quote from him,

“I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”

If anything about this horrible incident depresses me almost as much as the attack on the author, it was a comment on the BBC this evening by an author who has studied the effects of the Fatwa that the novel "The Satanic Verses" not only could not be published today but could not even be written.

That is an indictment of our failure to stand up for free speech.

I believe that all views about religion, including atheism, should be treated with respect, with one extremely important exception - those who think that their views about religion entitle them to kill other human beings, other than in self-defence, deserve no respect whatsoever. (That exception, by the way, applies to atheist regimes which persecute religious believers just as it does to theocratic regimes which persecute different faiths and atheists.) 

Therefore I do not support anyone who deliberately sets out to denigrate or insult anyone's religious faith. (I'm not convinced, by the way, that Salman Rushdie did have that intention.) 

But as soon as you allow the allegation that a given statement, film or book insults someone's faith to be grounds to censor it - or worse, to murder the author or distributor of that statement, film or book - you have given every vile extremist nutcase the power to shut down debate and suppress other viewpoints. That would be intolerable.

I hope that Salman Rushdie makes a full recovery.

Music to start the weekend: Judith Durham and the Seekers - Colours of my Life

The last of the clips I am posting as a tribute to Judith Durham, one of the must wonderful singers I have ever heard, who died a few days ago at the age of 79.