Thursday, May 24, 2018

GDPR comes into effect tomorrow

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come into effect tomorrow (25th May 2018) throughout the European Union, including Britain (which has not yet left the EU.)

This measure replaces and strengthens existing measures such as the UK data protection act

It includes information stored in written form on physical media such as paper (e.g. notebooks, card indices) as well as information stored electronically (e.g. in a computer).

GDPR is designed to give individuals more control over how their personal information is stored, controlled and used.

Personal data for this purpose includes anything which is specific to an individual where that individual can be identified.

If you live or work in an EU member state and hold information about people, you need to ensure that you are compliant with GDPR (the potential fines for non-compliance are eye-watering.)

As a first step to anyone readiug this who has not already checked whether they are operating within the new law as it applies from tomorrow, here is a link to an idiot's guide to the GDPR.

Quote of the day 24th May 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

If you thought British politics is getting strange ...

Have you been following what has been going on in Italy?

As far as I can work out the nearest parallel in British terms to what has just happened in Italy would be if a government were being formed by a coalition of Momentum and UKIP, and they invited a little known professor of Contract Law, who was not an MP, did not stand in the recent election and had never held elected office to be proposed as Italy's next Prime Minister ...

Remembering Manchester Arena

At 2.30pm this afternoon everyone at the conference I was attending today observed a minute's silence in memory of the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, one year ago today.

This was also observed by members and staff of Cumbria County Council and many other organisations and individuals up and down the country.

Quote of the day 22nd May 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018


I shall be doing a GDPR training course today. That means "General Data Protection Regulations" and the regulations concerned come into effect on Friday.

If you're experience has been anything like mine, it probably seems like every voluntary organisation you are a member of is worried about whether it can communicate with its members and what data it can hold about them, and is frantically trying to get permission to do so, and almost every company you have ever dealt with is contacting you to ask permission to continue to do so.

It is often said that many a true word is spoken in jest and there seems to be an awful lot of truth in jokes like a spoof article on the NewsThump site,

"New law designed to stop you receiving unwanted email generating terabytes of unwanted email"

which begins

"The new General Data Protection Regulation laws designed to stop everyone receiving unwanted email have resulted in the generation of billions of terabytes of unwanted email as every company ever is emailing you to tell you about it."

Apart from the minor detail that the main aim of the GDPR is supposed to be to give individuals and residents more control over their own data and not just to stop unwanted emails this allegedly "spoof" article is pretty much dead right.

Another joke I saw yesterday on Twitter

"He's making a list
He's checking it twice
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is in contravention of article 4 of the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679."

I'm trying to work out how much of the worry by various organisations is overblown. Half the responses to the tweet I have just quoted said things like

"No it's fine as long as he stores it properly and has a good retention schedule and documents it all properly."


"If all letters to Santa are now written on a pre-designed form, paper or electronic, with a double tick box, he should be okay."

And yes, this is an EU regulation but we have not left yet so it still applies to us.

I just hope the new rules are implemented with common sense. I know, that would be a first wouldn't it ....

Quote of the day 21st May 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Remembering the Unknown Warrior

In this 100th anniversary year of the end of the Great War, the new Duchess of Sussex has sent the bouquet she carried at her wedding yesterday to rest on the tomb of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey.

I am told that since Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) every bride at a British royal wedding has done this, but I think it is a very touching gesture.

Sunday music spot: extracts from Haydn's "The Creation"

Here is a selection of solos and chorus from Haydn's magnificent oratorio "The Creation" performed by the St Peters Singers of Leeds during a tour of Mallorca in 2009.

Kudos to Simon Lindley, who moved from St Albans Cathedral and St Albans School to be organist of Leeds Parish church in 1975. Simon Lindley was in the 1970's, and evidently still is, almost the only prominent choir leader who always insists on using the correct words for the concluding chorus in this recording, "The Heavens are telling the glory of God."

Almost everyone else singing this piece in English uses a terrible libretto in which the second line just plain wrong: while the music is divine, the entire oratorio suffers badly from having been incompetently translated from the original English into German by a diplomat who was an amateur linguist, and then badly translated back. One of the worst examples is the second line of "The Heavens are Telling" in which the subject and object were accidentally transposed in the course of translating the words of Psalm 19 from English to German and back again!

Psalm 19 verse one in the King James Bible reads "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."

The libretto sung in the clip below fits this to the music as "The heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament displays His wondrous handiwork" which anyone but the strictest purist would accept as equivalent in meaning. Unfortunately almost every other choir who performs this in English sings as the second line "The wonder of his work displays the firmament" which leaves me fuming at the incompetent translation rather than enjoying the music.

But THIS version gets it right ...

Quote of the day Sunday 20th May 2018

"The Social Media Chauvinists" ... "combine belligerent nationalism with online invective and intimidation. The category is not limited to obscure keyboard warriors; it includes elected Nationalists for whom abusing the enemy – they do not see mere opponents – is intrinsic to their politics.

"Social Media Chauvinists whip up cybernat pile-ons, keep the worst of the grassroots ginned up and target journalists and critics sceptical of the regime. They have constructed their own reality from an echo chamber of antagonistic bloggers and unhinged conspiracy theorists. Their indoor voice is a howl and paranoia their idea of equanimity; they are often to be found in a tizz over British-branded foodstuffs and unpatriotic weather maps.

"An accident of birth denied them their destiny as UKIP councillors forced to resign over a Facebook post about golliwogs."

(Stephen Daisley: extract from an article about the warring tribes of the SNP called

Sturgeon under Siege.

The article also includes the following assessment of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's position:

"After 11 years of defying political gravity, the SNP has hit the ground with an almighty thud. Internal skirmishes are manageable but not when they are accompanied by a spectrum of policy headaches. Nicola Sturgeon is sinking in quicksand but all around her are even more perilous pockets of it.

"The First Minister is in an impossible position. If she caves in to the Separatist Spoilers, she will return to the second referendum the country is exhausted of hearing about. If she stands her ground, she risks provoking open conflict within the movement and may not be able to rely on the loyalty of some on her own benches.

"Sturgeon has painted herself into a corner inhabited by a majority of her card-carrying members – but only a fringe of the broader population. Whichever way she moves, messiness is guaranteed."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Appointments to the House of Lords

Theresa May put forward a shirt list of nominees to the House of Lords yesterday: there were nine Conservatives, three Labour, and one DUP nominations for peerages, thirteen in total.

This takes the total number of peerages created since she became PM in 2016 to 24, but as the membership of the House of Lords has been reduced by 35 resignations and deaths since last year's general election, it represents a net reduction of 22 seats in the upper house.

Interesting to compare the numbers of peers created under her three predecessors between 1997 and 2016 (I've not included David Cameron's resignation honours list below to avoid a double count. Source for the information is a report from the House of Lords library available online here.)

Tony Blair (May 1997–June 2007)

Peerages created:
Conservative 62
Labour 162
Liberal Democrat 54
Independent/Crossbench/other 96  

Total 374

Gordon Brown (June 2007–May 2010)

Peerages created:
Conservative 4
Labour 11
Liberal Democrat 2
Independent/Crossbench/other 17  

Total 34

David Cameron (May 2010–January 2016)

Peerages created
Conservative 109
Labour 55
Liberal Democrat 51
Independent/Crossbench/other 29    

Total 244

Saturday music spot: Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

As for some reason there seems to be a lot of attention on the Royal Family this weekend, today's music spot is the glorious suite Handel wrote for the Royal Fireworks, as performed at the 2012 Proms Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Congratulations to Harry and Meghan

Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy marriage to prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their wedding today and on their creation as Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Quote of the day 19th May 2018

"The size of the House is falling, and our aim is to continue that progress."

"The relatively modest size of today's list when compared with those under several previous prime ministers has demonstrated a welcome commitment to that pledge."

(Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords, welcoming the "restraint" by the Prime Minister in keeping the numbers of new peers on the latest list to thirteen (nine Conservative, three Labour and one DUP) when 35 peers had either retired or died since the 2017 general election, so this represent a net reduction of more than 20 peers compared with eleven months ago.

There had been calls to limit the size of the House of Lords, which had increased considerably under the previous three Prime Ministers and has 130 more members than the House of Commons.)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Variation sub-committee - Monday 21st May 2018

There will be a meeting of the Variation Sub-commitee of the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee at 2pm next Monday (21st May) to consider one issue: the proposal from the NHS Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust to close specialist dental services at the Flatt Walks clinic in Whitehaven and relocate patients and activity to Cleator Moor health centre.

The role of this committee, which consists of six councillors, three district councillors and three county councillors with one of the six representing each district in Cumbria, is to decide whether this constitutes a "substantial service change" which would trigger a greater requirement for public consultation.

The meeting will take place in Committee Room 2 at County Hall in Kendal and will be open to the public.

The agenda of the meeting and details of the proposal, including the results of a consultation with patients, can be found here.

Share of workers on low pay falls to lowest since 1982

The Resolution Foundation has released figures showing that low pay in the UK - defined as those who are paid less than two-thirds of the median wage - has fallen to 18.2% of the work force, the lowest since 1982. (Blue line on the graph below.)

The number of people who have been lifted out of low pay by that definition in the past year is 230,000. The Resolution Foundation suggest that this is mainly due to the National Living Wage.

Quote of the day Friday 18th May 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A balanced account of the terrible happenings in Gaza

To listen to some people's account of the dreadful events in Gaza - accounts which come dangerously close to, and in some cases reach, the international definition of anti-Semitism by subjecting the state of Israel to  a stricter moral standard than anyone else or unreasonably comparing Jewish people to Nazis - you would think that everything which has happened is Israel's fault (except for what is Donald Trump's.)

To listen to other accounts you might imagine that the government of Israel has handled everything perfectly and all the bloodshed is Hamas's fault.

The truth, lies, as you might expect, somewhere between these two extremes.

I certainly don't think that either the Trump administration or the government of Israel has handled the situation well but there is no doubt that among the peaceful demonstrators were armed members of Hamas - which is classed as a terrorist organisation for good reasons by the governments of the USA, Britain and the EU - who were determined to cause trouble and willing to die and cause the deaths of others doing it.

Hamas themselves say that fifty of the 62 people who died were their members.

The best attempt I have seen to put together an impartial account of what happened which tries to be fair to both sides is an article in The Tablet called

"Thirteen inconvenient truths about what has been happening in Gaza"

which you can read here.

Special music spot: The Dambusters Theme music

In memory of all the brave men of RAF 617 squadron who breached the Mohne and Eder Dams in the early hours of 17th May 1945, seventy five years ago today, especially the fifty three who never came home.

Quote of the day 17th May 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Woman convicted for stealing four candles

The Whitehaven News this week reports that a woman from Cockermouth has been convicted and fined for shoplifting. She tried to steal four candles from a store in Whitehaven.

Yes, I do mean 4 candles, not fork handles ...

Time to ditch the concept of "Cultural appropriation"

The Economist has an excellent article here, subtitled

"When respect for diversity is taken to crazy extremes"

which argues that attempting to show respect for what are labelled "minority cultures" by preventing anyone else from paying them, the sincerest form of flattery is self-defeating and should be binned.

After pointing out the hypocrisy and capacity for inspiring ridicule which results from the inconsistent application of this idea, the magazine's article concludes:

"The remedy for the selective application of the cultural appropriation label is not its expansion—as this would sweep in all manner of innocuous social interactions—but its retirement.

The phrase stigmatises the beneficial cultural exchanges that happen in art, music, dance, cooking and language. The very idea is self-defeating. To declare black culture off-limits to non-blacks, for example, is to segregate it.

The term also fundamentally misunderstands the process by which all cultures form and progress: through creolisation and intermixing. To appropriate the words of John Donne, no culture is an island entirely of itself."

Midweek Madrigal: John Dowland's "Come Again, Sweet love doth now invite"

Quote of the day 16th May 2018

Remembering the Dambusters

75 years ago today, on 16th May 1943, nineteen specially modified Lancaster Bombers of RAF 617 squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, took off to attack the Ruhr dams in Germany.

The attack which followed on the night of 16th/17th May, codenamed Operation Chastise,  using purpose-built "bouncing bombs" developed by Barnes Wallis to breach the Möhne and Edersee Dams, caused catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley and seriously disrupted military production for the Nazi war effort.

RAF 617 squadron has been known ever since as "The Dambusters."

It is beyond question that Operation Chastise was a crushing propaganda blow to the Nazi regime, but there has been some controversy about how much damage was actually caused.

James Holland's recent book, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the Dams, argues that

"it is time to put the record straight."

He insists that the damage was "absolutely enormous" and it was "an extraordinary achievement."

Every bridge for 30 miles below the breached Mohne dam was destroyed, and buildings were damaged 40 miles away. Twelve war production factories were destroyed, and around 100 more were damaged. Thousands of acres of farmland were ruined. Two hydroelectric power stations were destroyed and several more damaged. Factories and mines were also damaged and destroyed.

Germans instantly referred to it after the raid as the "Mohne catastrophe". Even the cool Speer admitted that it was "a disaster for us for a number of months". German sources attribute a 400,000-tonne drop in coal production in May 1943 to the damage caused.

The fact that a titanic effort was made to repair this damage shows how high a priority the dams were, and it meant resources were shifted from elsewhere. Nowhere was this costlier to the Third Reich than on the beaches of Normandy.

Hitler had ordered the construction of a massive network of defences against an Allied invasion. Now thousands of workers who should have been toiling in France were redirected to the Ruhr to repair the dams. A year later allied troops would have faced far more significant defences had it not been for the Dambusters raid.

No raid mounted by so few aircraft had ever caused such extensive material damage. It did not bring German war production to a permanent halt, but nobody had expected it to.

Historian Dan Snow argues here that

"The most important impact of the Dambusters raid may indeed have been in convincing people on both sides that the Allies were winning, and that, often, is how wars are won and lost."

Eight of 617 squadron's aircraft were lost, 53 of the aircrew were killed and three taken prisoner. Thirty-four of the survivors were decorated, with Gibson awarded the Victoria Cross.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

MPs reject attempt by unelected House to force government to break manifesto promise

The House of Lords has done good work in the past as a revising chamber.

It is an appointed body, not accountable to anyone but whose members have usually shown restraint in the past, whose job is to check legislation passed by the elected chamber. the House of Lords is  not supposed to attempt to frustrate either directly or through wrecking amendments, measures which the electorate have voted for.

Some of the recent House of Lords votes on the legislation implementing the electorate's decision to withdraw from the EU have been pushing the envelope of what is acceptable within the traditional role of the unelected chamber and you don't have to either go along with the more excitable tabloid headlines about "traitors in ermine" of even be a rabid Brexiteer - I voted Remain - to be concerned that the upper house is in danger of going beyond it's reasonable powers.

The behaviour of the House of Lords in respect of Brexit is challenging enough, but on press regulation they have now twice this year attempted to force the government to do something which the governing party had made an election manifesto promise not to.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised not to hold a further "Leveson 2" inquiry into the press. In January the House of Lords tried to force the government to break this election promise through amendments to the Data Protection Bill. These were taken out of the bill by the House of Commons a couple of months later.

Last week a group of MPs moved similar amendments to the data protection bill to those previously put forward by the House of Lords, which in my humble opinion would have seriously damaged the ability of the press to write anything controversial or expose wrongdoing. By a slim but clear majority of nine votes, the House of Commons rejected the first of these amendments and a further, particularly damaging proposal was dropped without a vote.

That should have been the end of it, but on Monday the unelected House made yet another attempt to force the government to break its election promises about press regulation, passing a further proposed amendment calling for a new inquiry. In the words of the Guardian,

"Although often described as being equivalent to the abandoned part two of the Leveson inquiry, in reality the proposal debated by parliament would have gone further and considered the use of personal data by newspapers, the role of social media companies, and governance issues at media groups."

Today MPs again rejected these proposals, by a slightly larger majority of 12 votes.

“I support the convention that if something is in the party of government’s manifesto and this house passes it, then the Lords should be very, very careful about sending it back,”

said the culture secretary, Matt Hancock.

There is a good explanation of the case against another press inquiry or further regulation by Emily Dinsmore in Spiked which you can read here.

An appointed upper chamber is increasingly looking like an anomaly in the modern age. I fought the 2010 election on a Conservative manifesto which included proposals to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber.

Had I been elected I would, like the majority of Conservative MPs, have backed the attempt by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to implement this. Unfortunately it was defeated by an "unholy alliance" of Tory rebels and Labour. Ironically a substantial proportion of the rebels who killed the proposals for an elected second chamber were strong Brexit supporters who have found this bad decision coming back to haunt them.

The case for replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber looks even stronger to me today than it did during the 2010-2015 parliament.

UK Employment reaches a new record high

New figures released today by the Office for National Statistics ONS show that there are 32.34 million people in work in the UK, which is a new record high for the employment rate.

Quote of the day 15th May 2018

(A new Leveson-style inquiry into the press) 
would be an analogue inquiry in an increasingly digital age.”

It would also
“rightly be seen as yet another attempt by politicians to meddle in the internal affairs of the news media and ultimately to muzzle free expression”.
“What message are we going to send out - that the free media are enemies of the state?"
“They may be unruly and challenge us in ways that make us uncomfortable but they are not our enemies.”
(Lord Hunt of Wirral, a former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, extracts from his speech against the House of Lords proposal to try again to force the government to hold another inquiry into the press after MPs voted last week not to do so.)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Kinder, Gentler politics - NOT

While I was driving back to Copeland after the Cumbria Health Scrutiny meeting in County Hall, Kendal today, there was a mock "mastermind" quiz of a political journalist on Radio 4 about the new language of the hard left in Britain.

One of the five terms was an expression of praise for Jeremy Corbyn ("The Absolute Boy") and the other four were relatively new insults such as "slug" now in vogue among Corbynistas for various flavours of people whose views differ slightly from theirs. Their other disparaging names for people judged to be insufficiently robust in the left-wing cause are "Centrist dad," "Melt" and "Gammon."

You can tell quite a lot about a group of people if they start adding expressions to the language and if insults outnumber complements by four to one, one of the things it tells you is that whatever "The absolute boy" might prefer these are not practitioners of "kinder gentler politics."

What really struck me was the extent to which this range of terms indicates a range of disdain for everyone else in the political spectrum. You might expect that Conservatives like me might be the main target of Corbynista insults but actually I don't qualify as any of them - but almost everyone else does.

"Gammon" is a word for a working class supporter of Brexit, while "Centrist Dads" who are often Labour voters are the opposite - they are Remain supporters who are worried that Jeremy Corbyn is insufficiently opposed to Brexit.

The insults "Slug" and "Melts" are usually used of Blairites or soft-left Labour supporters who are perceived as trying to sabotage, or not have the courage to forcefully back, the Corbyn project.

If this is what has been added to the English language by the new left, one concludes that these people don't merely dislike Tories, they don't seem to like each other very much either!

"Tea with the Team Event" for new NHS staff on Sunday

This video is about the "Tea with the team" event to make new NHS staff in West Cumbria feel welcome and help them integrate with the local community which was held at the Rosehill Theatre yesterday and was a great success.

Quote of the day 14th May 2018

"If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

(Simon Kuyper, tips to young graduates in @FTmag, shared by @JonnyGeller)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Tessa Jowell RIP

I didn't always agree with Lady Tessa Jowell but she was a very brave and dedicated public servant who spent her life helping others and epitomised the value of respect of people of different views which is in such short supply these days.

I am very sorry to heat that she has lost her battle with brain cancer.

Rest in Peace.

Sunday music spot: Bach "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen"

Quote of the day Sunday 13th May

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday music spot: Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso

Copeland Local committee meeting 15th May 2018

The Copeland local committee of Cumbria County Council (consisting of all county councillors representing divisions within the Borough of Copeland) will be meeting on Tuesday 15th May at Cleator Moor Civic Hall and Masonic Centre.

The agenda and supporting papers can be found here.

Items for consideration include:


To consider a report from the Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure
This report presents the Highways Devolved Budget Finance report combined with an update on the Highways Programme, detail of which is contained within the attached appendices.


The major issue arising from this item is a recommendation not to proceed with the Beckermet Experimental Traffic scheme.


To consider a report which brings together information from across the Community teams including Community Development, Libraries, Archives, Public Health and Waste Prevention, and provides Local Committee with an update on the work of each area, identified activity against priorities, highlights current issues and provides an overview of the budget position.


To fill vacancies for eight school governor posts.

At the time the agenda was prepared there were people nominated to fill three of these vacances - on the governing bodies for Bransty and Seascale primary schools and Mayfield school - but there were no nominations yet for the remaining five vacancies on the governing bodies of the following schools:

St Begh's Catholic Junior School
Waberthwaite Church of England Primary School
Ennerdale and Kinniside Church of England Primary School
Lamplugh Church of England School
Valley Primary School.

Quote of the day 12th May 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

Adam Langleben on what went wrong for Labour in Barnet

Adam Langleben was a Labour councillor in Barnet until last Thursday when he lost his seat.

He is also Jewish.

Adam has written a powerful piece in the New Statesman about the problems which Labour experienced in Barnet because of perceived Anti-Semitism which you can read here.

It concludes as follows:

"there is a small but very vocal hard-left group within the party – certainly not the majority even within Momentum – within which this sickness festers, and it is to these people that Jeremy Corbyn needs to clearly state: this is not in my name."

Breast Screening

Any women who are concerned about the national breast screening issue should call the national helpline 0800 169 2692.

Information on the symptoms of breast cancer is available on the NHS website at

Quote of the day 11th May 2018

Thursday, May 10, 2018

May meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Commitee

The next meeting of Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee will be held at 10.30am in the Council chamber at County Hall in Kendal (NOT in Cumbria House Carlisle where it usually meets) next Monday, 14th May 2018. The meeting is open to the public.

The full agenda can be found on the County Council website here, but it includes the following items:

7. HealthCare for the Future of West, North and East Update: to consider a report by the Chief Executive, NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group

8. Eating Disorders in Cumbria: to consider a report by the Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust

9. North Cumbria Primary Care Collaborative - Alliance Model Update: to consider a report by the Programme Director for Integrated Health and Social Care – North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust. This report provides a progress update on the ‘alliance’ model being developed with a number of GP practices in North Cumbria.

10. Future of Mental Health Services: to receive a presentation from Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust. This report provides members with the opportunity for early engagement in the development of and consultation on the Outline Business Case.

11. Committee Briefing Report: To consider a report by the Strategic Policy and Scrutiny Adviser

12. Public Health Strategy: to receive a presentation by the Director of Public Health.

The reports for these items are almost all available on the County website page linked to above.

Quote of the day 10th May 2018

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Leveson 2 defeated by nine votes

The government has defeated amendments to the Data Protection Bill which would have forced it to re-start the Leveson inquiry by nine votes.

MPa voted 304 to 295 against a proposal from Ed Miliband for a "Leveson 2" further inquiry.

A second amendment from Tom Watson which would effectively have implemented Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and thereby put most newspapers in the position of having to pay the legal costs of both sides in any complaint, even if they won, was dropped.

Since Ed Miliband was throwing accusations of broken promises around and questioning whether this was an honourable course it is worth seeing what the 2017 Conservative Manifesto on which Tory MPs were elected had to say on the subject:

“Given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and given the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing, we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.
“We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.”

In other words the Conservative MPs who voted down his amendment were doing exactly what they had promised the electorate less than a year ago they would do.

I am very relieved by this result. As the Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, Tim Luckhurst, tweeted after the vote,

"I am delighted that" (Hacked Off's) "appalling amendments were defeated in the Commons today. Were they ever to return, Britain's reputation as a bastion of free speech and a champion of democracy would be shattered. A free press serves us all."


Second quote of the day 9th May 2018

"Just think about that for a moment. The Tories - the TORIES! - are on the side of a free press and Labour aren’t. And this time I can’t even blame Corbyn ..."

(Former Labour MP Tom Harris commenting on amendments tabled by Labour MPs Ed Miliband and Tom Harris which would in his opinion, and mine, have been a serious blow to freedom of the press in Britain.)

Midweek Madrigal: "In Pride of May" by Thomas Weelkes

Nick Cohen on Putin's fellow-travellers on right and left

While looking for something else on the Spectator website I found a piece by Nick Cohen about those in the West on both left and right of the political spectrum who are not nearly sceptical enough about the Putin regime which I found particularly apt.

Despite having been written last November, before the Salisbury poisonings, the latest round of bloodshed in Syria, or news that Putin's regime attempted to intervene on Jeremy Corbyn's behalf in the 2017 UK general election, the article "Putin's cranks and creeps are winning the day" is both thought-provoking and topical.

There is no reason why Britain and Russia have to be enemies. Our countries were allied in more wars over the past two hundred years or so than those in which we fought, most recently in the second world war when many British sailors - my uncle among them - risked their lives in dire conditions to take Russia war materials to help their heroic resistance against the Nazi threat.

And under a more responsible regime with a better understanding of their country's long-terms interests Britain and Russia could again be friends and allies.

Sadly the present Russian regime is systematically attempting to divide and disrupt the West and has no scruples whatsoever in how it goes about this.

You don't have to disagree with all the causes which Putin has, for his own reasons, supported to realise that anyone who sups with this particular devil needs a very long spoon.

You can read Nick Cohen's article here if you are registered - you don't need to be a paying subscriber - on the Spectator site.

Quote of the day 9th May 2018

  • Proposed changes to the Data Protection Bill would further erode press freedom and have a severe chilling effect for the news environment in the UK.
  • The new clause 20 would mean that normally, those publishers that were not regulated by a recognised regulator would have to pay both sides’ legal costs in a data protection claim, whether they won or lost that claim.
  • The inclusion of Condition A has been widely interpreted as ensuring that news organisations structured along the lines of the Guardian and the Observer should be excluded from the scope of the broader clause. This clause was not discussed with Guardian News and Media and we disagree with attempts to impose a selective sanction on the media.
  • There is an important debate to be had about press standards, but the Data Protection Bill should not be used as a vehicle for imposing an unfair and partial system on publishers. 

"While the model used by the Scott Trust is recognised in the amendment as maintaining high standards of journalism, it is a structure that is unique among UK publishers and rare globally as a model for news organisations. We do not believe that singling out one model of ownership for news organisations in this way is a constructive approach. We live in an age of diverse ownership, constitutions and business models underpinning news organisations in this country and around the world. This amendment implies that just one ownership model can result in the production of high quality journalism, which is simply not correct."

(The above bullet points and quote are extracts from a statement made this week by Guardian News and Media, publishers of the Guardian and the Observer, severely criticising proposed amendments to the Data Protection Bill which are to be discussed today in the House of Commons.

The proposals which the publishers of the Guardian and Observer are criticising include a clause called "Condition A" which appears to be an attempt to spare those newspapers from what is being imposed on the rest of the press. In my opinion it is very much to their credit that they have come out and attacked this "unfair and partial" proposal.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Annual Meeting of Copeland Borough Council

I attended the annual meeting of Copeland Borough Council today as an invited guest.

There were actually three meetings: one to deal with various items of business, including particularly a response to the Boundary commission proposals for elections to Copeland Council; one to confer the status of Honorary Alderman on two distinguished servants of the people of the borough; and the annual meeting to elect a new Chair and Deputy Chair and appoint councillors and co-opted members to committees and outside bodies.

One of the items of business was an updated code for dealing with unacceptable conduct by councillors, members of staff and members of the public which came from an all-party committee and was adopted with all party support (Conservative, Labour and Independent.) I was shocked to hear how much it has cost the council dealing with complaints over this council term. If I heard the mayor correctly, Copeland Borough Council has spent resources equivalent to £180.000 including officer time in dealing with complaints, many of which have been vexatious ones submitted over the internet by people who appear to have been using false names.

The new procedure is designed to be at least equally effective or preferable more so in dealing with real misconduct while reducing the need to waste vast resources on the need to investigate malicious or vexatious complaints, especially those from anonymous trolls.

I wish CBC every success in making this new code successful. There is a difficult balance to get right here.

Dealing with genuine complaints is an very important part of how every organisation improves its service and it is very important that attempts to limit the disruption caused by trolls should not interfere with the ability of people with a real grievance or issue to get it addressed. However the procedure should not be hijacked by malicious people submitting nonsense.

I was delighted to see Lena Hogg, the former leader of the Labour group on the council, and John Jackson, a former Conservative Mayor of Copeland, made honorary alderman. This is a rare honour in Copeland - there is a strict limit on the number of former councillors who can be given the title - and in both cases richly deserved by two people who have worked very hard for everyone in Copeland.

Congratulations also to Alistair Norwood, who finished his year as Chairman of the Council, and to Peter Connolly, who took over as the new Chairman.

Quote of the day 8th May 2018

Monday, May 07, 2018

Why MPs should vote against "Leveson 2" on Wednesday

This Wednesday, 9th May 2018 MPs will be voting on a number of proposed amendments from MPs, similar to those previously put forward by the House of Lords but later removed, to change the Data Protection Bill so as to force the government to proceed with a further round, sometimes called Leveson 2" of press investigation and regulatory measures.

This would be a disaster for freedom of speech and the press in Britain and I hope and pray that MPs will vote against it.

Let me be completely candid - our press in this country is frequently awful, and I agree with many of the criticisms of the press in Nick Davies's excellent book, Flat Earth News.

I can only imagine one way that our press could be worse - if it was under more state control.

However imperfect journalists and newspapers are - and believe me, I'm not disputing that they make too many mistakes - even well-intentioned attempts to improve journalism through state action are playing a very dangerous game for democracy.

Let me give you a couple of quotes from "Reporters Without Borders" (RSF) on their global press freedom 2018 of which you can find details on their website here.

"More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion."

The general secretary of RSF, Christophe Deloire, added that

Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.

These are global concerns about issues of press freedom around the world but it is deeply worrying that in that context Britain could only manage, for the second consecutive year, a pathetic 40th place in the RSF's 2018 index of Press Freedom, twenty or thirty places below most of the rest of Northern Europe. Lower than several of the countries severely criticised in the RSF statement linked to above.

The first Leveson inquiry shone a light into some truly shocking abuses by parts of the media. It is right that this should have happened. But it should not be forgotten that most of the worst abuses brought out by Leveson were already illegal under pre-existing law and were subsequently dealt with by the courts using pre-existing legislation.

Under pre-Leveson law and regulation more than a hundred people were charged, arrested or interviewed under caution, a significant number of journalists and editors,  including several of the most powerful people in the land, found themselves in the dock, and ten who admitted guilt or were found guilty by a jury were convicted and went to jail. Newspapers have paid out millions of pounds in compensation, with the disclosed sums varying between £40,000 and £600,000.

In the first five years of this decade, Britain arrested more journalists than anywhere else in the Western World. And yet there is a powerful lobby calling for tougher regulation of the press.

Those who are calling for stronger regulation of the press, including full implementation of the first Leveson inquiry recommendations and a second inquiry, come into two categories.

The first are those who have been victims or sympathise with victims of bad reporting, which certainly does exist, and who sincerely believe that Leveson 2 and those measures associated with the first Leveson Inquiry which have not yet been implemented will hit bad journalism and encourage good journalism. In my humble opinion these people are well-intentioned but dangerously naïve.

The second category are those who want to shut down criticism of themselves. It would be a lethal threat to democracy in this country if these people get what they want.

The fatal problem with even well-intentioned attempts to curb the press is that it never stops at good journalism. As Nick Cohen describes in his excellent work,

"You Can't Read This Book,"

measure which are intended to give the victims of lies some redress are all too often used to suppress the truth.

This is particularly true of some of the legislation which came out of the first Leveson Inquiry, particularly Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, a strong contender for the dubious distinction of being the most iniquitous piece of legislation ever put on the British statute book.

Section 40 is not currently in effect because, thank God, it has to be triggered by the government and successive secretaries of state for Culture Media and Sport have had the sense not to do so. But amendments proposed by the opposition front bench and due to be considered on 9th May would force the government to activate it.

This clause is an attempt to pressure newspapers into signing up to a state-approved regulator - which currently means the Impress organisation whose funding "has been guaranteed by the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust." (a trust run by the family of the former leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley) - because if Section 40 is triggered, any publisher who has not signed up to Impress and who publishes a story about which a complaint is made to the courts, has to pay the legal costs of both sides even if the story is found to be true.

It is difficult to understate what a threat to honest reporting, to freedom of the press, and to British democracy it would be if anyone who doesn't like a story in a newspaper which has declined to sign up to a government-approved regulator could bring an action against that newspaper knowing that the paper would have to pay his or her legal costs even if the story is completely accurate.

That is why I am praying that the House of Commons backs the government on Wednesday and reject the amendments which would set up a "Leveson 2" and particularly those which would activate Section 40.

Quote of the day 7th May 2018

"If the press is 'drinking in the last chance saloon,' a wise government will think long and hard before calling 'Time.'"

(Eric Pickles MP, now the Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles, responding the early 1990s to a warning from the then Culture Media and Sport Secretary David Mellor that the popular press was drinking in the last chance saloon.)

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sunday music spot: a double bill of Mozart and Handel

The first piece here is "Laudate Dominum" by Mozart, with the solo part sung by Barbara Hendricks, and the second is the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

The chorus part in both pieces is sung by Capella Istropolitana.

Quote of the day 6th May 2018

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Final thoughts on the 2018 local elections

There are two things which usually happen at every set of local elections, and three things which always happen.

The first thing which usually happens is a serious bloodbath for the candidates fielded by whichever party is in government, which usually loses hundreds of councillors.

The second thing which usually happens is that the main opposition party gains hundreds of council seats. Even opposition leaders who went down to a catastrophic defeat at the subsequent general election have often gained hundreds of councillors in local elections.

The third thing associated with council elections, and this one always happens, is that instead of inviting senior councillors who might be expected to have a closer idea about the issues involved in these LOCAL elections, on TV to talk about the results from the perspective of each party, the TV channels always invite MPs or someone from party headquarters.

The fourth thing, and again this always happens, is that the party representatives always find some result to point to in order to argue that their party has done really well, especially if it is obvious to anyone who knows the first thing about politics that they have actually been handed by the electorate a very serious bloody nose indeed.

And the final thing which always happens is that journalists and representatives of all the parties alike when discussing the results mostly ignore their real importance e,g, who will be running local services for the next four years and what policies they will follow, and instead concentrate on extrapolations of what these local elections mean for national results, extrapolations which range from the interesting but unreliable to utterly meaningless.

Usually the party in government does much better in the subsequent general election than in local elections because there are always a lot of voters who use local elections to send messages to Westminster. Most often the message is to the government in particular and can be summarised as "Get your finger out" though it is pretty clear that the message sent by Barnet voters on Thursday was to Labour and it was "sort out your Anti-Semitism problem."

When a general election and a set of council elections take place on the same day, I seen results where the total numbers of votes cast made it mathematically certain that thousands of people in a constituency voted for different parties in the two elections held on the same day. Elections just a few weeks apart show even greater differences - for example last year both the Conservatives and Labour received significantly higher vote shares in the June general election than in the county council elections held in May.

So local elections are a terrible guide to general election results and the fact that political journalists and activists alike are all unable to avoid discussing them that way is almost like some kind of mild collective insanity.

I'm going to try to avoid falling into that trap and discuss the results in terms of how the parties performed against expectations - starting with the recognition that CCHQ did a superb job of expectations management and Labour did a truly awful one.

Only a few weeks ago the suggestion was that the Conservatives were looking at a catastrophic meltdown in London and a mediocre performance elsewhere in the country. That view was not just down to expectations management from the Conservative spinners, although they did judge it perfectly, it was also what polls and independent observers predicted.

Against that background, to limit the damage in London and hang on to all the councils which were Labour's main declared targets in the capital - Westminister, Wandsworth, Hillingdon and to actually take Barnet from No Overall Control, while gaining seats and councils in the rest of the country, looks like a victory. The Conservatives remain by some way the biggest party in UK local government, which is an  unusual achievement for a party that has been in government for eight years.

(At 5th May 2018, according to Wikipedia, the Conservatives have 9,081 County, District, Borough, Unitary Authority or other principal authority councillors throughout the UK compared with 6,470 for Labour and 1,870 Liberal Democrats. Various smaller parties and independent councillors account for the remainder of 20,762 councillors in total. Very slightly different figures, still putting the Conservatives at well over nine thousand councillors and Labour a little short of six and a half thousand, are circulating on social media this weekend.)

Here are a couple of extracts from what Stephen K Bush, political writer at the New Statesman, wrote on their "Staggers" site on 28th March, e.g. about a week before the elections, on "What would be a good night for the Conservatives" (one of a series asking a similar question about each of the three main parties.)

Overall Stephen Bush's article before the election suggested three criteria to judge how well the Conservatives did. Against those three success criteria, which were

1) "Don't get hammered"
2) Don't lose Westminster or Wandsworth, and
3) Don't get wiped off the council in places like Hastings

for a good night, the Conservatives achieved it. We lost a net 90 councillors in London but had a net gain of 57 councillors in the rest of the country for a net loss of 33 overall, and did indeed hold on to most of our council seats in constituencies like Hastings.

The most disappointing result of the night for the Conservatives was losing control of Trafford council, and we also lost three councils to the Lib/Dems, (the biggest swing being in Richmond on Thames,) one council (Plymouth) to Labour and a couple to No Overall Control.


* The Conservatives gained control of four councils and lost six.
* Labour gained control of three councils and lost three
* The Lib/Dems made the best advance of the elections, with a net gain of four councils and 75 councillors, but from a pretty low base.
* UKIP lost almost all (124 of 126) of the seats they were defending, with just one significant success: in Derby they held one of their seats, lost another to the Conservatives, and unseated the Labour leader of the council by gaining the ward where he was seeking re-election.

So overall, some good and bad news for all three main parties. Dare I suggest it is possible that, as it should, a lot of the variation might actually reflect how good a job councils actually were or were not doing in their own areas?

Saturday Music spot: Kathleen Battle sings "Music for a While" by Purcell

Quote of the day 5th May 2018

It’s insupportable for a party to field openly anti-Semitic candidates.

It’s unacceptable for Labour MPs to call the Conservative Party “institutionally racist” on national television.

It’s unbelievable to look at the racist Twitter feeds of Labour supporters on the appointment of Sajid Javid as Home Secretary.

It’s intolerable to have plausibly-deniable arms-length Labour-supporting thugs vandalising Tory offices and sending hate mail to Tory candidates.

So, “decent” Labour members, learn this.

You can tell yourself that you’re moderate, you can repeat ad nauseam that racism (and especially anti-Semitism) can’t have anything to do with you 'because I joined the Labour Party to fight that sort of thing,' you can look on in shocked disbelief as your internal Corbynite opponents delegitimise your centre-left position in exactly the same way that you’ve spent decades delegitimising mainstream Tories

(this is the key point I suspect you’ll never learn, to be honest: Momentum are only doing to you what Blair taught you to do to everyone else)

but while you’re enabling Jeremy Corbyn, while you are actively campaigning for him to become Prime Minister: you’re lying.

You can be a promoter of Jeremy Corbyn’s party, or a moderate. You cannot be both at the same time.

(Graeme Archer, from an article on CAPX called Barnet shows that labour's poisonous politics don't work," which you can read in full here.)

Friday, May 04, 2018

When a headline really takes the biscuit

The North West Evening Mail today ran a headline in their digital edition which said

"Fears of Berlin style wall splitting Ulverston come true"

As Humbert Wolfe wrote many years ago

(There were not many lady journalists when Wolfe wrote this. but the quote is equally applicable to men and women.)

What the NWEM describes as a "Berlin style wall" in that headline is merely a metaphor for an election result - to be precise, that Labour won the three seats on South Lakeland Council representing Ulverston East while the Conservatives won the three seats representing Ulverston West.

So anyone who saw the headline and feared that Ulverston has its' own budding Donald Trump putting a physical barrier through the town does not need to worry ...

Cumbria's 2018 election results

On a day of mixed political fortunes around the country the Conservatives in Cumbria have made modest but positive advances in the two local authorities which had elections yesterday.


In Carlisle just one seat changed hands:

New Conservative councillor Rob Currie won Yewdale ward from Labour, converting a Labour majority of 276 in 2014 into a Conservative majority of 91 yesterday. Congratulations to Rob and his fellow Conservative councillors elected or re-elected yesterday. Commiserations to candidates who were unsuccessful.

Carlisle City Council remains hung, with 25 Labour, 22 Conservative, four Independent and one Lib/Dem councillors.

Full Carlisle results can be found here.

South Lakeland District Council

South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) had gone through boundary changes and therefore had an unusual "all out" election with every seat up for grabs instead of a third of the seats coming up at a time.

Many of the wards have been merged so that where there had been 45 wards electing a total of  51 councillors, mostly in single member wards, there are now 18 wards, most of which elect three councillors (and the remainder two councillors). In places sitting councillors of different political persuasions found themselves in competition for merged seats.

The Conservatives in South Lakeland gained four seats from the Lib/Dems but lost one to Labour, while the Lib/Dems picked up a seat from the previous Independent member on the council and recovered a seat which had been vacant.

Again, congratulations to all the elected or re-elected Conservative councillors. Commiserations to those who lost, particularly Norman Bishop-Rowe who lost out to Labour in the merged Ulverston East seat.

Where just before the election SLDC had 31 Lib Dems, 16 Conservative, two Labour and one Independent councillors, and there was one vacant seat, the council now has 29 Liberal Democrats, 19 Conservative and three Labour councillors.

(That vacant seat caused a bit of confusion in some press reports, including the one on the BBC website, because some journalists missed that there had been a vacant seat and subtracted the Lib/Dem net loss of three seats from their position of 31 councillors just before the election and wrongly reported that the Lib/Dems now had 28 councillors rather than 29.)

Full SLDC results can be found here and an analysis in the Westmorland Gazette here.

The normalisation of extremism

James Bickerton has an interesting article on the Reactions site which argues that political extremism - e.g. talking about your opponents in the language of hate and threats of violence, defending those who actually use violence - has ceased to be unacceptable in Britain.

The article begins as follows:

"We used to pride ourselves, in Britain, on not doing political extremism. This was something that took place overseas, to be learned about from anxious BBC reporters. The appeal of radical left and radical right, or anyone else who waved their flags a little too aggressively, was largely lost on us. Men with silly uniforms, and sillier ideas, were ignored if they were lucky, and mocked if they weren’t.

Of all the nations of Europe few rejected the zealots as resolutely and comprehensively as Britain.

This, I regret to say, is no longer the case."

Sadly he is able to present evidence to make a strong argument in support of that view.

You can read his article here.

Second quote of the day 4th May 2018

“Jeremy Corbyn was supposed to come here tomorrow for a victory speech. We want him to come to Barnet anyway, to apologise to Jewish Labour activists.”

(Labour councillor who lost in Barnet, according to Steve Hawkes on Twitter.)

Postscript - the defeated Labour councillor who said this was Adam Langleben, who is himself Jewish, and repeated the call on Iain Dale's LBC show as you can see and listen to here.

Quote of the day 4th May 2018

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Local election day

Just got home after spending this afternoon and evening campaigning with the excellent Conservative candidates James and Caroline Airey and Andrew Butcher in the Furness Peninsular ward of SLDC. (For those who do not take an anorak-like interest in Cumbrian politics that's South Lakeland District Council, currently run by the Lib/Dems.)

Looks like a close fight but I know the Conservative team have put in a fantastic effort and the reception on the doorstep today was pretty good.

Polls now open in local elections

In those local council areas which have elections this year the polls are now open and will remain so until 10pm this evening.

Quote of the day 3rd May 2018

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Of House of Lords reform and Brxit

Back in 2010, along with every Conservative candidate and every Labour candidate I fought that year's general election on a platform of replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber. I still support that policy.

David Cameron tried to carry out that promise but it was sabotaged by an alliance of opposites consisting of Conservative rebels and the Labour party.

The official line of  Ed Miliband's Labour party was that they wanted to see the House of Lords reformed but that they could not support the timetable bill motion which would limit debate (but in practice was necessary to get it through.)

26 Labour MPs didn't even pretend to support reform of the House of Lords and voted against the second reading of the bill. The measure was killed by Ed Miliband's tacit opposition and the active opposition of those 26 Labour MPs and 91 Conservative rebels.

A list of the 117 MPs who voted against reform of the House of Lords in 2012 can be found here and makes very interesting reading.

It is a very diverse list, with the Tory MPs involved ranging from the wettest of the wets for the driest of the dry and it would appear likely that the MPs who killed the measure did so for a whole range of very different reasons. What is indisputable is that this decision has come back to haunt those 2012 rebels who are ardent supporters of Brexit.

A small minority of members of the House of Lords are quite openly using their position to try to frustrate Brexit.

A much larger number of peers, who would deny that they are trying to frustrate the will of the electorate, have passed amendments to the EU reform bill which seek to put constraints on the ability of the government to negotiate which are presented as giving more power over the process of negotiating Britain's exit from the EU to the House of Commons.

Some of the proposals put forward in the Lords were quite clearly wrecking amendments designed to block the implementation of the referendum result, although the worst of these were not passed.

I have my concerns that some of the amendments which have been passed could go horribly wrong. The Brexiteers are convinced that all the amendments are sabotage.

Those ministers and supporters of Brexit who backed David Cameron in 2012, such as Dr Liam Fox, can without hypocrisy criticise the "unelected" Lords for passing amendments which he thinks are likely to make a successful Brexit more difficult, because Liam Fox isn't one of the people who stopped the unelected Lords from being replaced by an elected second chamber.

Some of those who did, however, are among those who have been complaining about the "unelected" Lords this week. It all rather brings to mind the saying "Be careful what you wish for. You may get it."

In the spirit of equal opportunity ...

Having just posted a recording of the King's Singers (who are all blokes) singing Morley's "Now is the month of Maying," in the spirit of equal opportunity here is a version by the Madrigirls ...

Midweek Madrigal: The King's Singers, "Now Is The Month Of Maying"

Quote of the day Tuesday 2nd May 2018

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The Chancellor writes

A message from Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, particularly to those who have local elections this Thursday:

"As Chancellor I believe in taking a balanced approach, and across the country that’s what Conservative councillors do. Delivering high quality public services while managing your money wisely.
Together, as a country, we’ve had to make some tough decisions to sort out the mess left by Labour.
Because of our balanced approach, Britain’s economy has grown for eight years in a row.
That’s why the Government has been able to cut your income tax, help keep mortgage rates low and boost your pension.
Locally, Conservative councillors are taking the same approach. Backing local people and businesses with high quality services, helping to create stronger local economies.
All of this, while charging on average £100 less in council tax than Labour for a typical band D home. So your family’s finances get a bit more help.
Yours sincerely,
Philip Hammond
Chancellor of the Exchequer"