Friday, December 15, 2017

Seasonal joke of the week


(Hat tip to Andrew Rosindell MP via Twitter)

NIck Cohen on the charlatans who use the "Fake News" narrative

Nick Cohen has a good piece in the Spectator,

Charlatans succeed by pretending the media always lies.

He accepts that journalists make mistakes and sometimes "herd" in the direction of selecting stories based on a journalistic consensus, and therefore there are rational reasons to be sceptical about the mainstream media narrative.

However he then points out how unscrupulous charlatans of  right and left alike, from Trump to the Corbyn supporters of Momentum, take advantage of genuine concerns that the media might not get everything right to create a "Take News" narrative that the media always lies, and thereby insulate their supporters against any possibility that an inconvenient truth might disturb their comfortable beliefs.

Definitely worth a read, Not least because all of us are wise to ask ourselves whether we might be falling into the same trap.


Brexit talks to move to next stage

European leaders have confirmed today that talks about Britain's departure from the EU can move to the next stage.

Theresa May welcomed the move as an "important step on the road" to ensuring a "smooth and orderly" exit.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, tweeted the news this morning that the 27 EU leaders were happy to move onto phase two after they met in Brussels. He congratulated the UK Prime Minister on reaching what has been described as a major milestone in the Brexit process.

There is still a long way to go but at least we are moving forward to implement what the public voted for last year.

Quote of the day 15th December 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Initial feedback from today's Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The Health Scrutiny Committee met today in Carlisle to consider a very major list of important items affecting healthcare in Cumbria. There was a pre-meeting scheduled for 9.30am and the meeting itself ran from about 10.30am to about 4pm with a 45 minute break for lunch.

I'm not going to attempt to post a full record of the meeting this evening though I will try to put up some more details over the next few days but here are two or three particularly important points from the meeting.

1) Health Service provision for Deaf patients

There were presentations to the committee from Healthwatch Cumbria, the Cumbria Deaf Association, and a number of Deaf service users about the experiences of patients with hearing loss who needed to use NHS services in Cumbria.

Some of the stories we heard about the challenges faced by Deaf patients in Cumbria in communicating their needs and understanding what they were being told were extremely moving and raised a lot of important issues.

The Chief Operating Officer of the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, arriving a few minutes early for his own session with the committee, caught the tail end of those presentation and I was pleased that he volunteered an interest in learning about the rest of the issues the Deaf service users had raised before we had the chance to make the suggestion ourselves. The points raised will indeed be passed on, both to the CCG and to the Trusts.

The CCG representatives were there to take the committee through a "Healthcare for the Future" update.

One particularly important point which was made, following the "Call-In" of maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital and the  Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) decision not to pursue a "full review" is that the policy of the NHS in Cumbria and the recommendation of the IRP is still to provide Consultant-led Maternity services at WCH and make it work.

The IRP agreed that the suggested twelve month timeframe which had been suggested to test the sustainability of retaining consultant-led maternity was, quote,

"potentially unrealistic and unhelpful if taken literally as  the deadline for a final decision. The intention must be to do everything possible to implement Option 1 and make it work."

I was not on the council or the committee at the time of the call-in but that is precisely the reason I would have voted for the call-in if I had been.

The CCG confirmed again today that they are indeed committed to making consultant-led maternity work, have made a lot of progress towards doing so, and also that they have not started the 12 month review of the sustainability of the service mentioned in the original decision. They will put forward a paper in February 2018 on what action it is proposed to take about any review, and will not start the clock on any review before that.

It was stressed that the CCG are not saying they will necessarily start a review in February, the CCG was saying that they will not start one before that.  As of today their policy is indeed to do everything possible to maintain Consultant-led maternity service at West Cumberland Hospital and make it work.

Remembering the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

A memorial service was held today for the 71 people who died in the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

Whenever there is a disaster like this terrible event, people always say "this must never happen again."

What the investigations carried out after the tragedy appear to show is that there appear to have been systemic failures all over Britain, and on the watch of councillors and ministers from every political party and none, in making homes and other public buildings as safe as they need to be.

We must not forget the victims of Grenfell and neither should we forget the need to do more to improve fire safety.

Quotes of the day 14th December 2017

Niven's Laws (collected "laws" written by SF author Larry Niven about the universe works)

1)  Any damn fool can predict the past.

2) Never fire a laser at a mirror.

3) Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun.

4) F × S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.

5) Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.

6) It is easier to destroy than create.

7)  a) Never throw nasty stuff  at an armed man.
     b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing nasty stuff at an armed man. *

8) History never repeats itself.

9) Ethics change with technology.

10) There Ain't No Justice. (often abbreviated to TANJ)

11) Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch.

12) There is a time and place for tact. And there are times when tact is entirely misplaced.

13) The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.

14) The world's dullest subjects, in order, are
       (i) Somebody else's diet.
       (ii) How to make money for a worthy cause.
       (iii) Special Interest Liberation.

15) The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.

Niven's corollary: The gene-tampered turkey you're talking to isn't necessarily one of them.

16) Never waste calories.

17) There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
      (also given as "No cause is so noble that it won't attract fuggheads.")

18) No technique works if it isn't used.

19) Not responsible for advice not taken.

20) Old age is not for sissies

21) "There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is 'idiot'."

The term "Niven's law" is also used for the argument that if time travel and changing the past would otherwise be possible, time travel will tend to eventually eliminate the circumstances in which it actually happens.

* I bowdlerised this law

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Second quote of the day 13th December 2017

"I voted with the government tonight and wasn't persuaded by the arguments of my colleagues who rebelled. But I respect their position and deplore the accusations of treachery and calls for deselection. Nothing could be less British."

(Nick Boles MP via twitter)

To coin a phrase, I agree with Nick.

Midweek music spot: Maddy Prior sings a folk version of "Angels From The Realms Of Glory"

Quote of the day 13th December 2017

"There will always be a conservative faction and it will always be powerful. In fact, except at times of revolution and great upheaval, it will usually tend to be dominant."

"When I say 'conservative' I am not speaking of any particular political philosophy. I am using the term in lower case, so to speak. I am referring to the basic attitude of most people that unless conditions are intolerable it is usually best to err on the side of caution."

"The essence of conservatism is not a political philosophy of any kind. It is a general attitude."

(Every country has) "a plethora of saws expressing that attitude"

"'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' That's my personal favourite, and by the way, a piece of wisdom I subscribe to myself.

'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.'

That's another. A third - I'm quote fond of this one also, is

'Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.'

And finally there is the famous Murphy's Law which perhaps encapsulates the heart of conservatism;

'If something can go wrong, it will.'"


(Eric Flint, extracts from a political speech by a character in the novel "The Ottoman Onslaught.")

(For the avoidance of doubt I subscribe to one of Niven's laws which says

"There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is 'idiot'."

Eric Flint may or may not believe the words he puts into the mouth of his character, but I thought there was enough sense in them to make the comment worth quoting.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hanlon's Razor

One of my favourite sayings is

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

I have seen this quote attributed to various people going back as far as Goethe and also including Napoleon and Bernard Ingham, but there seems to be most evidence for an almost identical form of words having been originated by Robert J Hanlon, and it is often known as Hanlon's Razor,




The science fiction author Robert Heinlein also made a similar comment, and it has also been suggested, though this appears to be paraphrasing him wildly, that there might be a "Heinlein's Razor" as follows:

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice."

Theresa May's open letter in the Standard to EU Citizens living in the UK

Dear EU citizens,

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I am proud that more than three million of you, EU citizens, have chosen to make your homes and livelihoods here in our country. I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make — enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay. 

So from the very beginning of the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union I have consistently said that protecting your rights — together with the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries — has been my first priority. 



You made your decision to live here without any expectation that the UK would leave the EU. So I have said that I want you to be able to carry on living your lives as before.  But I know that on an issue of such significance for you and your families there has been an underlying anxiety that could be only addressed when the fine details of some very complex and technical issues had been worked through and the foundations for a formal agreement secured.
So I am delighted that in concluding the first phase of the negotiations that is exactly what we have achieved.
The details are set out in the Joint Report on progress published on Friday by the UK government and the European Commission. 
When we leave the European Union, you will have your rights written into UK law. This will be done through the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill, which we will bring forward after we have completed negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement itself. 
Your rights will then be enforced by UK courts. Where appropriate, our courts will pay due regard to relevant European Court of Justice case law, and we have also agreed that for a period of eight years — where existing case law is not clear — our courts will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision. So as we take back control of our laws, you can be confident not only that your rights will be protected in our courts but that there will be a consistent interpretation of these rights in the UK and in the European Union.
We have agreed with the European Commission that we will introduce a new settled status scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.
If you already have five years of continuous residence in the UK at the point we leave the EU — on March 29, 2019 — you will be eligible for settled status. And if you have been here for less than five years you will be able to stay until you have reached the five-year threshold. 
As a result of the agreement we have reached in the negotiations, with settled status, your close family members will be free to join you here in the UK after we have left the EU. This includes existing spouses, unmarried partners, children, dependent parents and grandparents as well as children born or adopted outside the UK after March 29, 2019.
Your healthcare rights, pension and other benefit provisions will remain the same as they are today. This means that those of you who have paid into the UK system — and, indeed, UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU member state — can benefit from what you have put in and continue to benefit from existing co-ordination rules for future contributions.
We have also agreed to protect the rights of those who are in a cross-border situation at the point of our withdrawal and entitled to a UK European Health Insurance Card. This includes, for example, tourists for the duration of their stay, students for the duration of their course and UK nationals resident in another EU member state.
The agreement we have reached includes reciprocal rules to protect existing decisions to recognise professional qualifications — for example, for doctors and architects. And it also enables you to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing your settled status — more than double the period allowed under current EU law.

There will be a transparent, smooth and streamlined process to enable you to apply for settled status from the second half of next year. It will cost no more than applying for a passport. And if you already have a valid permanent resident document you will be able to have your status converted to settled status free of charge.
We are also working closely with Switzerland and European Economic Area (EEA) member states to ensure their citizens in the UK also benefit from these arrangements.
I have spent many hours discussing these issues with all of the other 27 EU leaders over the past 18 months as well as with Mr Juncker, President of the European Commission, European Council President Tusk and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
I am confident that when the European Council meets later this week it will proceed on this basis. And I will do everything I can to ensure that we do.
So right now, you do not have to do anything at all. You can look forward, safe in the knowledge that there is now a detailed agreement on the table in which the UK and the EU have set out how we intend to preserve your rights — as well as the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries. For we have ensured that these negotiations put people first. That is what I promised to do and that is what I will continue to do at every stage of this process.
I wish you and all your families a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Yours, Theresa May.

Friendships which cross the political divide - UPDATED

Back in mid October the Observer published this article by Gaby Hinsliff which I welcomed here about ten MPs and peers who had friends in an opposing political party.

It ought to be obvious that such friendships are a good thing. Unfortunately whenever someone puts their head above the parapet and admits to such a friendship there will be those who apply words like "traitor" to one or both of the individuals concerned.

Last Friday there was a charming Tweet showing two young women, Sophie the author of the tweet and her friend Rose, which referred to the fact that one of them votes Conservative and the other Labour but they had been friends for sixteen years.

It is important to recognise the positive as well as the negative, and note that many, many people, including myself, posted about over the weekend about what a nice tweet this was.

What I thought was rather sad. however was that this clearly upset a lot of people, and the responses to Sophie included a significant number of critical tweets, some of which were quite nasty. Sophie showed, incidentally, enormous maturity and patience in the polite way she responded.

I think it legitimate to point out that I did not see a single response from a Conservative accusing Sophie of being a traitor for being friends with Rose or attacking Rose for voting Labour. But there were plenty from the Left which were nasty about one or both young women because of  Sophie's politics or Rose's friendship with her and many which made a whole raft of assumptions about one or both of them.

Far and away the most patronising of the negative responses was one from Owen Jones, a Guardian journalist who therefore ironically writes for the same news organisation which published Gaby Hinsliff's excellent article linked to in the first line of this post.

Jones parodied the words of Sophie's tweet to refer to himself and his cat. It appeared to be intended to be funny but that's not how I think it came over.

POSTSCRIPT ADDED MONDAY EVENING

I had not originally realised, but was saddened to learn this evening, that the nastier end of the twitter responses to Sophie and Rose included rape and death threats.

So much for "kinder, gentler politics!"


No political party has a monopoly on wisdom or foolishness, on achievements or terrible mistakes, We can all learn from other people. The sort of anger which fuelled the attacks on Sophie and Rose is not a positive thing. As Mark Twain wrote,


Quote of the day 11th December 2017

A quote which seems rather apposite today from George R. R. Martin's book "Game of Thrones" and the rest of the "Song of Ice and Fire" books (and the TV series "Game of Thrones" based on them)


And a commentary which fits today's weather ...


(For anyone who hasn't read any of the "Song of Ice and Fire" books or seen any of the "Game of Thrones" TV episodes, "Winter is Coming" is the motto of one of the noble houses who are protagonists in the power struggles in the story, House Stark. It refers to more than just seasonal bad weather. Jon Snow, portrayed by Kit Harington and photoshopped in the upper picture to wield a shovel, is an illegitimate scion of House Stark who finds himself in the front line of defence against what is meant by "Winter." The lower picture is Lord Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean, who was one of the few people to take the warning in his House motto seriously ...)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Music Spot: Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band sing "Ding Dong Merrily on High"

Quote of the day 10th December 2017

"As democracy and liberty come under attack, from Poland to the US, the salient point to remember about Leninists who stayed with communism after the fall of the Soviet Union is that they switched from embracing one form of totalitarianism to embracing every form of totalitarianism.

Their grim journey took them from the decrepit Brezhnevian regime in Cuba to the religious reactionaries in Iran and Gaza via the national socialism of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria"


(Nick Cohen, from an excellent Guardian article, What would it take for Labour moderates to revolt?

For the avoidance of doubt, he is talking about the leadership of Momentum, and about Jeremy Corbyn's inner circle.

The last paragraph of the article reads as follows:

"As I said, I am talking about the worst of the left. But here is Britain’s bind: the worst of the left controls the left. One day, it may control the country too.")

Saturday, December 09, 2017

John Rentoul of the Independent on the EU Deal

If you only read one piece in the press this weekend about Theresa May's deal with the EU, I recommend that it should be John Rentoul's article in the Independent,

"Michael Gove is waving the white flag over Brexit - but it's not for the reason you would think."

A lot of really good points in the article but here is the key quote.


"This is a big moment for both ends of the Brexit spectrum. For hard Remainers, this week’s agreement is a disaster, because it means the small chance of stopping Brexit has just got smaller. And for the cavalier Leavers it was the moment they could no longer avoid meeting reality."

Saturday music spot: Steeleye Span sing "The Boar's head Carol"

Quote of the day 9th December 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday music spot: Steeleye Span "The Song Will Remain"

Dan Hannan channels Bill Maher

Dan Hannan MEP, who as a small child grew up in a country with a far-left government whose policies he compares to those of Jeremy Corbyn, tries to explain in this video how far removed from the mainstream of recent British politics the present leadership of the Labour party is.



All political parties frequently spend a lot of their time criticising their opponents, which is a legitimate thing to do but is often overdone, and even the most normally truthful of politicians seem to have to guard against a propensity to go "over the top" when talking about their rivals.

One of the many reasons why this is a bad idea is if you have grossly exaggerated the threat posed by your opponents in the past, it has a diminishing effect, and also leaves you with no good way to say "look guys, we really mean it this time."

For example, the Labour party has claimed in every election for the past fifty years or so that the Conservatives will destroy the NHS if they get into or stay in power. As the Conservatives have been in office after seven of those elections and 29 of the last 50 years, and the NHS is still here, just about everyone in the country who isn't hopelessly gullible or a total cretin has worked out that these allegations are at least an overstatement of the case. The majority of voters take them with a large pinch of salt.

What on earth would Labour say in the unlikely event that they were ever up against a party which really did want to destroy the NHS?

The Democrats had a problem with Donald Trump which was not dissimilar to this in 2016 and the Conservatives have more than a hint of the same issue when dealing with Jeremy Corbyn now.

Now I would not for a moment accept that the Conservative campaign against Ed Miliband misrepresented the truth of his position to anything like the same extent that Labour routinely misrepresents the Conservative position and record on the National Health Service.

But we do have to find a way to get over that the present leadership of the Labour party is genuinely different to anything we have seen in this country before. They stand for a much more extreme brand of a philosophy of which a mild version nearly wrecked this country half a century ago.

Ironically the Labour leadership themselves and their supporters in Momentum are keen to explain the same thing. Momentum keep telling some of their own MPs and councillors to "**** off and join the Tories" because compared to them people like Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock look like Liberal Democrats and a good chunk of their own party do look like Tories.

In the clip below from the 2016 US presidential campaign, Democrat supporter and comedian hit this issue head on: he's a comedian and what he says is meant to be funny but he's not really joking.

Paraphrasing wildly, Maher more or less apologises for most of the rude things that he and other Democrats had said about Mitt Romney, John McCain and even George W Bush, calling them "honourable men who we disagreed with and we should have left it that way" and essentially saying that liberals had been crying wolf in their attacks on previous Republican candidates but that Donald J Trump really was everything they had said about the previous candidates.



It didn't work. I can understand why.

"We were wrong before but we're telling the truth now" is not the most persuasive of slogans.

And given that Trump is now the President, let's hope that Maher was wrong about him as he now admits he was about Romney, McCain and Bush.

But I cannot help thinking that he was onto something in the belief which  prompted him to make the speech in the clip below, that the criticisms which he and others had made about previous republican candidates were much more true of Trump.

A similar principle applies to the Corbyn leadership of the Labour party, which is why Dan Hannan's piece above felt to me as though he was channelling Bill Maher.

In terms of their wish to dismantle the existing order and in a number of other respects Trump has far more in common with Corbyn that either would like to think.

Quote of the day 7th December 2017


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dan Hannan MEP on the costs of the unseen

Interesting point by Dan Hannan MEP about the similarity between the economic impacts of Hurricanes and Socialism.

He argues in the clip below that the same flaw in the argument that Hurricanes which smash lots of things can benefit an economy because the construction industry gets a lot of repair work to do, is the flaw in the arguments for socialism and for a large public sector.

What the people who argue that a catastrophe can benefit an economy are usually missing is that the money which has to be spent on the repair work would otherwise have been spent on something more useful (unless there is a massive amount of slack in the economy, which in Britain today there isn't.)

Similarly the people who argue for the economic benefits of socialism and government expenditure usually miss, as the shadow chancellor did on the Marr show the other day, that the allocation of resources to these state activities usually crowds out other spending or activities (again, unless there is a lot of slack in the economy - same point applies.)

I would not go quite as far as Dan does in the video - I don't agree that being a socialist is like paying little boys to smash windows - but he's dead right that people who think a hurricane or natural disaster makes you richer and people who think socialism makes you richer are usually making the same mistake, which is ignoring what economists call the "opportunity cost" of the money being spent, e.g. the other opportunities represented by that money, what other things would have been done with it.

Quote of the day 6th December 2017

"It is one of the most worrying features of the modern world that free speech is coming under attack – even in societies that claim to be liberal and tolerant.

So far in 2017 there have been 51 journalists murdered simply for doing their job, and 181 have been jailed."


"Free speech is an integral part of a free society. We believe that a free press is not only morally right; without a free press any society will eventually suffer from corruption and economic decay."

(Boris Johnson, from an article in the Sun newspaper.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Local NHS starts new recruitment campaign to bring more medical professionals to Cumbria

I am very pleased to see that the NHS trusts in Cumbria have started a new and more vigorous recruitment campaign, working with staff and local communities in a drive to attract health professionals to the area.

Two NHS Trusts, North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust (NCUH) and Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), are working together with local people to raise the profile of Cumbria and the career opportunities our area can offer.

Last month the Trusts asked the public to support them by sharing photos that show what they love about living and working in Cumbria. They received over 100 entries which will now be used to promote the area to health professionals – such as doctors and nurses.

Stephen Eames, chief executive at NCUH and CPFT, commented: “The response from the public has been fantastic. We know that our staff and local communities are passionate about our NHS and the place they call home, and that’s really come across. The range of photos we have received will help us show just how much we have to offer.

More details on my hospitals blog at http://savewestcumbriahospitals.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/local-nhs-starts-new-recruitment.html

Tuesday music spot: Bach's Christmas oratorio

Don't try to listen to all of this at once unless you have a few hours to spare but the individual movements are also great fun to listen to: I recommend the first movement in particular.

Feedback from Highways Working Group

Feedback from the Highways Working Group of Cumbria County Council's Local Committee for Copeland which met yesterday (4th December 2017).

The first item discussed was the "North Shore" project which has been awarded a substantial amount of taxpayer's money to improve road safety and traffic flow in the Bransty Row area of Whitehaven.

This money is time-limited and has to be spent within something over two years.

A great deal of work is going on at the moment to refine the detailed options before putting the scheme out to public consultation in 2019, possibly in February.

One possible variant has a number of points of similarity to the Multi-Modal transport hub proposed a few years ago. However, it is possible that the scheme will focus more on improving the North Shore and George Street/Tangier Street junctions.

If all goes to plan work will start in Spring 2019.

The meeting also discussed the priorities for road surface repairs, the Local Committee's devolved capital programme, gully cleansing over the forthcoming winter period, and parking orders.

Thoughts on the border in Ireland

At one stage yesterday it looked like there might be a breakthrough in the Brexit talks.

But it never sounded plausible to me that Britain could agree a deal in which Northern Ireland was treated differently from the rest of the UK.

No significant player wants the return of a "hard border" in Ireland. It would be an economic and social catastrophe for people in both parts of the island of Ireland and it is very difficult to see how anyone in their right mind could want it for the reasons explained in this excellent BBC article.

There could also be dire results for the United Kingdom if any part of the UK had a different status to the rest with respect to the European Union. The DUP are not the only people who could not accept a solution in which Northern Ireland remained de facto in the Single Market and Customs Union while the rest of the UK left them. Any such solution would stir up monumental problems in both Northern Ireland and Scotland and jeopardise the very future of the UK.

For that reason there will not be a majority in the House of Commons for any proposal which would put Northern Ireland on a different basis to the rest of the UK in terms of relations with the EU.

It will not happen.

It will not be a simple matter to find a way through this.

I saw this problem coming before the referendum and the fact that I thought the question of how to avoid the disaster of a reintroduced hard border while "taking back control" of our borders in general would be exceptionally difficult to solve was one of the three main reasons I personally voted Remain. I wrote the day before the referendum that:

"Both sides in the present EU referendum have said some exaggerated, implausible or ridiculous things. But in terms of promises to the voters which are completely incompatible, one of the most completely incredible things said by either side is that Leave are simultaneously promising to "Take control of our borders" and promising the residents of both parts of Ireland that they are not going to introduce border controls along what would become the UK's land border with the EU.

I cannot understand how the Leave campaign can expect anyone in their right mind to believe both these promises, unless they are going to start introducing border controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK instead.

How can you possibly promise Britain will "take control of our borders" by leaving the EU when what would become our border with the EU has no controls of any kind and anyone can just walk across it with no passport or ID whatsoever?"


So I'm entitled to an "I told you so" on this one.

However, Leave is what the majority voted for so we have to try to find a way to make it work.

As far as I can tell from the press and from the statements being made, the talks were never as close to success as the Irish broadcaster RTE suggested yesterday, and neither had the British government agreed to capitulate in the manner which they suggested thereby generating a backlash against what people thought might be about to be agreed. Neither do the talks appear to have completely collapsed or failed to the extent which some people are suggesting this morning.

Resolving this was never going to be quick or easy. It is going to take time, patience and nerve.

At the risk of being compared to Corporal Jones from Dad's Army. I am reminded of a comment that a senior backbencher made many years ago when another government was trying to get through a difficult problem:

"Pro bonam publico, no bloody panico!"

Quote of the day 5th December 2017

Monday, December 04, 2017

Quote of the day 4th December 2017

"A close ally should never be so insulting.

How dare he? When a foreign politician question's Britain's commitment to fight Islamic extremism and stand "shoulder to shoulder" against ISIS, our hakles rise. When a close ally suggests we were complacent after "a series of attacks" we were entitled to be angry. And when he says it despite hone-grown terrorist attacks ion his own back yard, we should fume.

Yes, Michel Barnier, the Frenchman who is the European Union's chief negotiator, deserves to be slapped down."

(Sunday Times editorial yesterday responding to Barnier's attack on britain's commitment to European defence and security.)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Copeland Highways Working Group

There is a meeting tomorrow (4th December 2017) of the Copeland Highways Working Group of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland.

The agenda includes the proposed action on the A595 at Moresby, the North Shore scheme in Whitehaven, a review of recent parking decisions, the devolved highways budget and the area highways manager's regular report.

Music spot for Advent Sunday: Come, thou long expected Jesus, St John's Cambridge

Quote of the day for Advent Sunday 2017

After weeks of seeing Christmas things in the shops, today is Advent Sunday, the first day of the church's year, and the official run-up to Christmas is finally actually here.

Some words on the subject from someone who dedicated her life to the less fortunate:

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Do we need a new code for the relationship between politicians and the police?

If there is one good thing which might come out of the allegations made by two former police officers about the current First Secretary of State it would be a review of the rules governing the relationship between the police and politicians. I hope that such a review would lead to updated and better enforced rules to give clearer guidance to both police and government and keep the police out of politics in everyone's interests.

I was outraged at the time when Damian Green, then an opposition MP, was arrested for being too effective in embarrassing the government, Separate reviews of the arrest which took place shortly afterwards by the former head of British Transport Police, Ian Johnston and by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O'Connor, were also critical of the arrest and the way it was handled as you can read here.

Ian Johnson said there was a "strong question mark" both over the police decision to arrest the then Conservative immigration spokesman and the manner in which it was carried out.


Denis O'Connor also found the arrest disproportionate, but the most striking thing which he said at the time and clearly still resonates is the impossible position the police were put in.

He said: "Police feared they would be damned if they did and damned if they didn't because of the politics around them and they worried about how things might play out."

The inference is that the case continued long after it was clear that there were no national security implications because the police were afraid that the Labour party and it's allies would accuse them of bias if they dropped it. Of course what happened instead is that the then opposition parties, the press and even more honourable members of the Labour party criticised them for not dropping it.

I think new safeguards may be needed to protect everybody from the risks to justice which this kind of prosecution can represent.

There are two completely separate issues raised by the inquiry into the current Deputy Prime Minister.

One of these must be impartially investigated and be seen to have been taken seriously and it is right that it has not been swept under the carpet.

In the other case however, it is the manner in which the allegations were made, not their content, which raises the most worrying concerns. 

Nobody - not MPs and not serving or former police officers - is above the law, and nobody should be subject to sexual harassment.

I have no idea whether the allegations by the journalist and former Conservative activist Kate Maltby are true or not, but clearly in the interests of justice they have to be seen to be taken seriously and appropriately investigated.


However, the contradictory allegations made by two former police officers about the material supposedly found on a computer in Damian Green's office, raise serious concerns not about what the MP is supposed to have done but about the history giving rise to these allegations.


It is also a matter of grave concern that one of those officers has admitted keeping a copy of information which his superior officers at the Metropolitan police told him to delete.

Even if one of the sets of allegations reported in the press to have been made about Damian Green were true - and incidentally, they cannot both be accurate because the allegations are incompatible, although one thing both accounts are agreed on is that the material allegedly found on the computer was legal at the time - they would represent less of a threat to democracy than the way these allegations came to be first made and provided to the press.

This is not, and must not be allowed to became, a row between "the Conservatives" and "the press."

The people who have expressed concern ranging from regret that the matter has been placed in the public domain to outright condemnation of the actions of the two former police officers making the accusations against Damian Green have included a number of senior police officers.


Their own boss at the time of the arrest, Sir Paul Stephenson, (later Metropolitan Police Commissioner 2009-11), has told the BBC that he was made aware of the allegations but did not consider that it was appropriate either to take any further action or that the allegations have been published.


"I regret it's in the public domain," Sir Paul said. "There was no criminality involved, there were no victims, there was no vulnerability and it was not a matter of extraordinary public interest."

The present Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, has stated in the strongest terms that the release of these allegations to the press should not have happened.

Sir Thomas said police have an "enduring" duty of confidentiality, even after they have left the service.

In a statement, he said if a serving officer had breached that duty they would face disciplinary action potentially leading to dismissal and, in certain circumstances, criminal charges.

"The special powers which citizens confer on police officers are inseparable from the obligations of special trust placed in police officers to enable them to do their duty," Sir Thomas added.

"That trust requires every police officer to respect and keep confidential information which they obtain in the course of their duties and which is irrelevant to their inquiries and discloses no criminal conduct."

In his statement, Sir Thomas said that if the police could not be trusted with confidential information, public confidence would be damaged.

"The public need to know that when information about their private lives comes into the possession of the police, and that information is irrelevant to the work of the police, its confidential and private nature will be respected in perpetuity," he said.

"If public confidence in this respect is damaged, and people do not believe they can trust the police in such circumstances, great harm may be done to the relationship between the police and the citizen, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the police will be impaired."

Similar concerns were expressed by the former Chief constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, who said the retired officers were entering "dangerous territory" over the allegations, and urged the police to stay out of politics.

“It is very dangerous territory for a police officer to be making judgements about whether a politician is lying or not,” he said.

“That should only happen in a criminal investigation and even then ultimately it is for the court to decide." 

“Police should also be extremely careful about making judgements about other people’s morality when it is not a matter of crime. It is something really central to our democracy that the police are not involved in politics,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

Asked if the leaks were “wrong”, Sir Peter added: “I personally believe that they were. I think most police officers and police chiefs would think that they were and would be dismayed at the way this case has developed.”
On Tuesday, Scotland Yard confirmed its department for professional standards was examining allegations that one of the officers who appeared on the BBC making allegations against Damian Green had disclosed confidential information.


The present Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, has condemned the former police officers who claimed to have found pornography on Damian Green's computer and confirmed that the Met is looking at whether their disclosure is a crime which could lead to prosecution. She told BBC Radio London,

"All police officers know very well that they have a duty of confidentiality, a duty to protect personal information.

"That duty in my view clearly endures after you leave the service.

"And so it is my view that what they have done based on my understanding of what they're saying... what they have done is wrong, and I condemn it."

Officers come across sensitive information every day, the commissioner said, and "know full well" it is their duty to protect it.

A statement from the Metropolitan Police said: "Confidential information gathered during a police inquiry should not be made public.">

There are good reasons why rules like this are on the books, and they are to protect the innocent. Whatever the retired officers who brought these charges may think, I am not  convinced that Damian Green or anyone else in his office was actually searching for or downloading pornography on a work computer.

Even today - and it was MUCH more true nine years ago - anyone who has done a search on the internet knows that stuff which is not related to what you are looking for, including pornography, can come up. Ironically the present Prime Minister shares her name with another lady who is what is euphemistically known as an "adult performer" and as the PM herself said during a TV discussion while she was shadow education secretary some time before the 2010 election,

"If you put 'Theresa May' into an internet search engine the first thing that comes up isn't Tory Education Policy."

What the retired officer who actually looked at the computer says he found was not full size pornographic images themselves but cached thumbnails - records of the icons on a page with links to such image. Computers can "cache" e.g. store such images even when nobody clicked on those icons to view the relevant images, and pages like this can - and did more frequently a decade ago - come up when they are not what the computer user was actually searching for.

Links to other articles and reports on this subject:
1) Mark Wallace at Conservative Home, whose article concludes as follows:
"This is another reminder about the importance of proper protections for liberty and privacy.
There’s a fair deal of outrage among Green’s colleagues that the police might act in this way – and rightly so. We saw the same on Fleet Street when journalists were targeted with intrusive police powers, then left in a legal limbo on police bail, sometimes for years. But this isn’t just about MPs, just as the previous example wasn’t just about journalists.
There’s a wider lesson about the need to ensure individuals’ privacy and liberty is properly protected.
If someone like a Minister of the Crown can experience something like this, then you can be sure people with less influence, prominence and resources are far more vulnerable to abuses of power.
Any MPs concerned about the way Green is being treated should think on the experience next time they are asked to approve further extensions in police investigatory powers and further restrictions on privacy – the idea such measures will never be misused is clearly erroneous."

2) Dan Hodges at the Mail writes about a cynical vendetta against Damian Green here.


Conclusion

If there had been a case to answer against Damian Green at the time of his arrest, it would have been for the courts to decide whether that case was valid. For former police officers  who had been involved in an investigation to try to wreck the career of a cleared suspect nearly a decade after the original investigation because they think he did something legal which they disapprove of and which is not relevant to the original charged, is no recipe for justice or for the rule of law. 
It is exactly what former US President John Adams was trying to get away from when he said that he wanted his country to have "a government of laws and not of men."