Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Labour Uncut "pants on fire" attack on Corbyn

Ted Heath used to say

"I do not often attack the Labour party. They do it so well themselves."

There's a real corker of a red-on-red attack on the "Labour Uncut" website this evening,

"Labour leader leaves national television interview with pants on fire."

It's about Jeremy Corbyn's interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday.

It also makes some important points (which ought to act as a warning to people across the political spectrum) about how the "Fake News" narrative has damaged democracy by becoming a "get out of jail free card" for people who've been caught lying.

Here is an extract from what the author of the piece, Rob Marchant, has to say about Corbyn's interview:

"While the Guido Fawkes blog is hardly staffed by friendly Labour supporters, it is difficult to argue against the following conclusions they made:
  • Corbyn says he took money from PressTV “a very long time ago” (it was 2012, only three years before becoming leader).
  • He says he stopped when they “treated the Green movement the way that they did” (no, that was 2009, three years before).
  • He says that he had, on each occasion, “made my voice very clear about human rights abuses” (all the appearances are available on YouTube and there is no evidence that Corbyn did any such thing).
After the third lie, it feels as if, somewhere in the studio, there is a cock about to crow.

But the sad thing is this: we barely notice now. This is where politics has got to in 2018."

You can read the full article here, and in my humble opinion it is worth reading.

This is the clip on Guido Fawkes' site which makes the points Rob Marchant refers to.


Rob Marchant goes on to say:

"Think about it: the Leader of the Opposition says three things which are easily proved to be untrue on national television in the space of around 20 seconds and the public barely bats an eyelid. And this phenomenon is not at all normal in any historical sense, at least in peacetime. "

"Ah, but they all do it, we hear someone say in a cynical tone." 

"But they don’t. At least, not in Britain, up to about 2015, they didn’t." 

"British politics is not Russian politics and is, amazingly, one of the most truthful and least corrupt (if not the least corrupt) in the Western world. "

"Besides, the media would call you out on it and it would be a big deal. But what Trump, Putin, Fox News, Breitbart and the age of the internet have jointly pulled off is a masterstroke: it’s to weaken confidence in an independent press altogether and, by extension, in democracy." 

"In short, Trump’s 'fake news' is a disastrous meme, cancerous to democracies everywhere. While it may sometimes be true, those who use the words most frequently seem, unsurprisingly, to be the same people who have been caught lying. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card." 

"Vladimir Putin, who stands to gain most from this killing off of trust in democratically-elected politicians and the media, must be, as Lou Reed once put it, 'laughing till he wets his pants'”.

"The moral is simple: politicians shouldn’t lie, and British ones mostly don’t or, at least, didn’t. But in this brave new world of fact-free politics, it is desperately sad to see a Labour leader – a Labour leader – put himself at the front of that particular queue."

Midweek Madrigal: "Hark all ye lovely saints above" by Weelkes

North West Evening Mail apologises for wrong accusation against Transport Minister

The North West Evening Mail newspaper has issued an apology for an article which, quote,

"wrongly accused transport secretary, Chris Grayling, over false promises on the A595 road."

Details of the correction and apology can be read here.


To give where credit is due, the newspaper published a correction, apology and a letter from the minister, Chris Grayling, which sets out his position on the work being done to improve the A595.

The letter reads as follows:

"Dear editor,

"There have been no discussions between Transport for the North and Department for Transport ministers about removing the A595 from its strategic plan.

"When I visited Cumbria last year, I said that the A595 was at the top of my priority list. I stand by that statement.

"I reaffirmed my pledge in July, when I singled out the A595 as one of the roads needing an upgrade when I announced the Transport Investment Strategy.

"The A595 is vital to the county’s economy, but is blighted by congestion and hold-ups. I want to remove this barrier and help Cumbria’s economy flourish.

"Just a day later, I revealed plans for a consultation on the Whitehaven bypass, which will take place later this year. This could have wider benefits to the rest of west Cumbria by improving links for businesses and to jobs.

"Not only will a relief road for Whitehaven ease congestion on the A595, and improve air quality in the town. There will also be further benefits to the wider communities as drivers will no longer feel the need to rat-run through villages.

"Before Christmas I also launched a consultation on creating a Major Road Network, which would see the most important A roads benefit from up to £1 billion a year for bypasses, road widening and safety enhancements. Parts of the A595 and A596 could benefit from this, so I would urge your readers to have their say.

"If this new tier of roads comes into force in 2020, it would be up to Cumbria County Council and Transport for the North to put forward plans for enhancing these roads. I am told there is a compelling case for a bypass at Grizebrook and I look forward at seeing them.

"But this is not all the Government is doing in Cumbria. We are also funding £2.6 million to cut congestion on the A66 Fitz Roundabout and at Great Clifton.

"This is on top of £34 million of investment in 2017/18 to support road schemes in the county, including £3.4 million for repairing potholes.

"I want residents of Whitehaven to again get their voice heard when plans for the relief road are revealed later this year.

"And I also want Cumbria residents to rest assured that I am committed to improving the A595, as I have previously made clear.

Chris Grayling
Transport Secretary"

Select Committee reform as a guide to local government reform

Around the turn of the millennium the Blair government forced County Councils and the vast majority of City, Borough or District councils to largely abandon the traditional "committee system" under which most of a council's detailed decision making was carried out by proportionately balanced committees meeting largely in public, and individual councillors had almost zero formal authority, in favour of what were called "executive structures."

These involved either a directly-elected mayor or  "leader and cabinet" taking on almost all the power which had previously been delegated to committees, with some individual councillors now having quite considerable formal authority and an executive which could now consist entirely of members of the ruling party instead of having to reflect the balance on the council.

(Committee decision-making was retained for some, largely regulatory decisions such as planning and licencing, where giving the power to an individual to grant, say, planning permission might have created a perceived or actual greater risk of corruption.)

This was, of course, essentially an attempt to impose the national Westminster model of democracy on local councils. with the additional option of directly-elected mayors.

To provide an additional level of democratic scrutiny and give both opposition councillors and majority party backbench councillors something useful to do, the same Local Government Act 2000 also required councils to set up at least one "Overview and Scrutiny" committee, these being apparently modelled on the House of Commons "Select committees" which had been founded by the late Norman St John-Stevas in 1979.

Their job was to scrutinise the Mayor or Leader and Cabinet in much the same way that Select Committees help parliament to scrutinise ministers and hold them to account.

Ironically in the years since the Local Government Act 2000, Select Committees themselves have been made significantly more powerful and effective through what are known as the "Wright Reforms" put forward by the Commons Reform Committee in 2009 when Doctor Tony Wright MP was chairman, many of which were implemented by the incoming Coalition government in 2010.

There is a very persuasive article on the LSE website by Andrew Coulson (a former Birmingham councillor and Associate of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham, not the former editor and spin-doctor with whom he shares his name) which argues that similar reforms could help improve the effectiveness of Overview and Scrutiny committees in local government.

The article notes that The House of Commons’ Select Committee on Communities and Local Government reported in December 2017 on its distant cousins, overview and scrutiny committees in local government. The main recommendation of the select committee is that scrutiny committees should report to Full Councils, and have much stronger powers of access to information and evidence, and the ability to call individuals to account.

The committee also recommends strengthening the position of council scrutiny committees in relation to the executives, and that local authorities should be required to demonstrate that they have independent and effective operational arrangements for scrutiny. All councils would have a statutory Scrutiny Officer who would be required to report annually on the state of scrutiny in that council. The report also supports cross-party chairing, a key feature of the Parliamentary select committees.

I have served on three major authorities, one which had fully embraced the principle of cross party chairing, with that on Cumbria county council, which accepts it to some degree, and one where the then administration was as restrictive as they could get away with. It is certainly my impression that the effectiveness of Overview and Scrutiny was in direct proportion with the willingness of the council to accept cross-party working in general, and allowing a good mix of scrutiny chairs is certainly an important part of that.

I think there are some good recommendations in the Betts report and I hope it will be adopted.

You can read Andrew Coulson's article at the LSE site or at Democratic Audit UK: a link to the former follows.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/select-committees-can-enhance-overview-and-scrutiny-in-local-government/

Quote of the day 31st January 2018


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

On the Peterson/Newman interview and broadcaster bias

Ten days ago I posted an interview of Canadian academic Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman, which had ruffled a few feathers.

I put this up in a post "On Heresy and Censorship" to illustrate where he stands, because a junior Canadian academic had been made the subject of disciplinary procedures for showing a class a short video clip of Jordan Peterson (procedures which, if the press report about them to which I linked was remotely accurate, appeared troubling in what they say about the state of free speech and thought in the University concerned.)

This interview sparked a strong reaction and also, unfortunately. a lot of over-the-top trolling attacks on both participants.

I personally think some of the reaction to the interview is overstated - for example. some of those who have been attacking Peterson appear to think he actually said things which Newman asked him if he was saying and which he disavowed. Similarly a lot of the flak which has been aimed at Cathy Newman appears to be for doing her job - an interviewer is supposed to pin the interviewee down on what he or she is actually saying and that can reasonably include seeking to clarify whether any of the statements they have made is really a "dog whistle" for a more controversial position.

Nevertheless those people commenting on this interview who suggested that Cathy Newman repeatedly and frequently asked Peterson whether he was saying things which he clearly had not said do, in my humble opinion, have a point.

Newman's apparent difficulty in understanding what Petersen was actually saying was also illustrative of a trap which all of us need to watch out for - to be too ready to label unfamiliar views or people coming from a direction to which we are unsympathetic and attach to them a package of prior assumptions about what we think they "really" stand for which may be far from the whole truth. The political left is particularly bad at doing this to the political right, but it is a trap which everyone needs to watch out for.

Here is the interview again - see what you think. (It lasts half an hour but you don't have to share all of Jordan Peterson's views to find it interesting.)



There have been suggestions that the fallout from this interview is, quote "forcing broadcast journalists to reconsider their interview techniques and inherent biases," most recently in a City AM article by Ryan Bourne from which I took today's "Quote of the Day."

I hope Bourne is right about that: some of our broadcasters could do with a willingness to consider a wider range of views more seriously.

Quote of the day 30th January 2018

"Newman consistently asserted viewpoints onto Peterson that he did not hold, oversimplified his arguments, sought to put words into his mouth, and bluntly restated some of his conclusions absent context or nuance."

"Newman has since become the unlucky fall-guy for a type of bias you see a lot, when interviewers seem to have some caricatured preconceived notion of what their guest really believes."

"If the Peterson interview leads to more broadcast journalists checking their priors, and engaging with what their interviewees actually say rather than a preconceived idea of what they think, then he will have done a great public service indeed."



(Ryan Bourne, extracts from a City AM article, "It's time for broadcasters to start confronting their anti-right bias," about the Peterson/Newman interview)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Swimathon 2018 - a quarter century of swimming for charity

I first took part in the Swimathon twenty-four years ago in 1994.

This year I hope to take part in Swimathon 2018 at Copeland pool, Hensingham on Saturday 28th April.

So this will be the 25th consecutive year I have swum the 5,000 metre challenge.

The Swimathon is Britain’s largest charity swim, and gives people of very varied swimming abilities an opportunity to raise money for charity by swimming distances of up to 5,000 metres. The 2018 Swimathon event is in aid of Marie Curie, who look after thousands of terminally ill people, and also, for the first time, Cancer Research UK, the world’s leading cancer charity.

Marie Curie, the UK’s leading charity for people with any terminal illness and their families, has been Swimathon's charity partner ten times since it launched in 1986 and has raised over £17 million for the charity through the event during that time.

A big thank you to anyone reading this who sponsored me or any other Swimathon participant in the past.

If you sponsor me, or any of the other swimmers taking part in the world’s biggest fundraising swimming event, you will be supporting two incredible causes. You can do so online via my Justgiving page at:


https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-whiteside2018

Nora Mulready on why she resigned from the Labour party

After "the best part of 20 years" as a member of the Labour party, and an activist for the party in Haringey, Nora Mulready resigned from Labour yesterday.

She has written a powerful blog post on why she resigned, a decision she has described as "heart wrenching," here.

Quote of the day 29th January 2018

I can't think of a better example of the saying that many a true work is spoken in jest ...


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Campaigning in Hartside

Due to the sad death of Councillor Sheila Orchard, who will be sadly missed, there is currently a by-election for the Hartside ward of Eden District council which will take place on Thursday 8th February.

Sheila's widower Rob, who is a hardworking activist for the local community in his own right, is standing to fill the vacancy and Cumbria Conservatives are campaigning to support his election. I went over to Eden this morning to join a strong team who were on the stump for Rob Orchard and was impressed with the effective and well-organised campaign they are running.

Good luck to Rob on 8th February, I think he would be an excellent councillor for the people of Hartside ward.

Saturday music spot: Vivaldi's Concerto For Guitar And Strings in D Major

The Power of Words

"The power of words" is the theme for this year's Holocaust Memorial Day, which is today.





































Today is the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and on this Holocaust Memorial Day we should remember all those who were murdered by the Nazis, their allies and collaborators in the orgy of genocide and cruelty usually known as the Holocaust.

The list of victims is estimated to include:

5.9 million Jews
2.7 to 3.2 million ethnic Poles
3 million ethnic Ukrainians
2-3 million Soviet Prisoners of War
1.5 million ethnic Belarusians
300,000 to half a million Serbs
270,000 disabled people
90,000 to 220,000 Romani
80,000 to 200,000 Freemasons
20,000 to 25,000 Slovenes
5,000 to 15,000 gay people
7,000 Spanish republicans
2,500 to 5,000 Jehovah's witnesses

Also among the victims were trade unionists, members of all political parties opposed to the Nazis, people whose religious faith led them to criticise or refuse to co-operate with Nazi and fascist regimes, people shot as hostages or in reprisals, and people murdered for just about every twisted reason it is possible to imagine.

Here is a table estimating the deaths by ethnicity - the word "Politicals" appears to have been used as shorthand a number of groups who were murdered for a reason other than their ethnicity including Masons, gays, etc.


The sheer scale of this great evil makes it very difficult to comprehend how terrible it was or how such a vast crime could possible have been perpetrated. But it was, and so the Holocaust, other genocides, and hence the depth of evil to which humans can sink must never be forgotten.

Neither should the victims, or the courage and humanity so many of them showed.

Anne Frank, who died in Belsen concentration camp in early 1945 at the age of 15, wrote in the diary she kept while she and her family were in hiding from the Nazis,

"I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived."

More than seventy three years later Her words do live on, and deservedly so.

Quote of the Day for Holocaust Memorial Day, Saturday 27th January 2018

"Soon the last survivor and the last perpetrator from Auschwitz will have joined those who were murdered at the camp. There will be no one on this earth left alive who has personal experience of the place. And when that happens there is a danger that this history will merge into the distant past and become just one terrible event amongst many.

There have been horrific atrocities before, from Richard the Lionheart's massacre of the Muslims of Acre during the Crusades, to Genghis Khan's genocide in Persia. Maybe future generations will see Auschwitz the same way - as just another bad thing that happened in the past, before living memory.

But that should not be allowed to happen.

We must judge behaviour by the context of the times. And judged by the context of mid-twentieth century, sophisticated European culture, Auschwitz and the Nazis' 'Final Solution' represent the lowest act in all history.

By their crime the Nazis brought into the world an awareness of what educated, technologically advanced human beings can do, as long as they possess a cold heart. Once allowed into the world, knowledge of what they did must not be unlearnt. It lies there - ugly, inert, waiting to be rediscovered by each new generation. A warning for us, and for those who will come after."

(Laurence Rees, concluding lines of his book "Auschwitz, the Nazis and the 'Fiual Solution.')

Friday, January 26, 2018

Iain Dale on the lost art of political interviewing

Probably the most effective and often the most devastating political interviewer that I ever watched was also the most polite.

Brian Walden was a former Labour MP but his style of interviewing was equally courteous and equally challenging whoever he was interviewing. He would start his interviews with friendly and gentle questions which gave the politician being interviewed a clear opportunity to stake out his or her position, and for the first ten minutes or Walden would do nothing more challenging than try to ensure that every opportunity had been given to stake out that position clearly and precisely.

And then, usually about ten minutes in -  BANG! With equal courtesy he would take some aspect of the position staked out which could potentially give rise to difficult issues and start exploring those issues, in manner which despite his gentle and cultured tones put the interviewee in the position of a batsman at whom the bowler, who had been sending down slow and predictable deliveries which could easily be despatched to the boundary, was now suddenly lobbing bags of nitroglycerin.

Similar skills were once displayed by other great interviewers such as David Frost.

Iain Dale argued in a persuasive article last month, which you can read here, that instead of trying to tease out what politicians stood for so that it could be made the subject of informed criticism, interviewers today all too often think that they are in a competition to see who can be more aggressive or do most to trick the person interviewed into a gaffe.

Aggressive questioning certainly has a place in the armoury of most good interviewers, but I rather agree with Iain that the best interviewers are as interested in making sure that the public is informed as in seeking fireworks and in the strengths of the interviewee's position as in his or her weaknesses.

HMS Queen Elizabeth to visit Gibraltar

The new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be leaving port again soon on the next stage of her trials, which will include the flight trials to operate rotary-wing aircraft. (Flight trials with F35 jets  is planned for this autumn.)

I understand from the UK Defence Journal that during this voyage she is likely to call at Gibraltar for "a routine logistical stop."

If this happens as planned I suspect the people of Gibraltar will be delighted to see her ...

Quote of the day 26th January 2018 - another one from Winnie

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Why has the UK economy done better than even some Leave supporters expected?

It is important to emphasise that until Britain actually leaves the EU we will not even have a good idea what the economic benefits and costs will be.

Indeed, while we still do not even know yet the terms on which Britain will leave, those on both sides of the argument who claim to be able to assess the benefits and losses which will accrue are just begging to be made to look ridiculous.

There is one area which we are in a position to assess: the shock impact of the vote itself on consumer, investor and trading confidence.

In the hours after the vote billions were wiped off share prices, and the pound plunged.

Because many FTSE100 companies get a significant proportion of their earnings from abroad, the drop in the pound rapidly pushed the stock exchange indexes and stocks and shares in general back up to and even above the pre-vote level.

Of course, we will never know what the pound would have done if there had been a "Remain" vote but it is entirely reasonable to argue that it would have been unlikely to have dropped so sharply, and although the pro-Remain elements of the media have grossly over-egged this particular argument (and thus unfairly discredited it) by blaming certain price increases on Brexit which had little to do with it, I am convinced that the recent blip in inflation which had been hovering around zero and went up to a peak of 3.1% before dropping to 3% in the most recent figures was mostly caused by the rise in import prices due to a lower pound.

I regard myself as a moderate new classical and monetarist economist: those economists who take a strongly monetarist view would probably argue that the extra money injected into the economy by the Bank of England via Quantitative Easing after the vote to prevent a recession may also be partly to blame for the current blip in inflation.

Either way, the Brexit vote is a primary cause of the uptick in inflation and thereby prolonged the stagnation in real wages by about a year.

However, let's get this in proportion here, we're talking about an uptick to 3% inflation which appears to have peaked, and a further year's stagnation in real incomes which have been flat for a decade. This is a significant hit to Britain's pensioners, families and individuals. It is not a trivial matter.

But it isn't an economic catastrophe either.

On issues other than the pound, inflation, and real incomes, the economic shock forecast from lost confidence by some Remain campaigners and many economists - it was even accepted by some pro-Leave economists that there would be a short-term shock - has largely failed to materialise.

The jubilant Brexiteers who have been gleefully pointing out continued growth in the UK economy and in employment are slightly overstating their case, as they are turning a Nelsonian eye to the impact of a lower pound on inflation and on real incomes. But they are entirely correct that in terms of economic growth and employment Britain is doing better than almost everyone expected.

The economy has not significantly slowed down. Employment continues to rise. Productivity continues to flatline, something on which Britain urgently needs to improve, but it hasn't got worse either.

As "The Economist" put it,

"It is true that Britain has slipped down the international league tables of GDP growth since the Brexit vote, but growth in both 2016 and 2017 still averaged around 2%, roughly similar to 2015. Furthermore, house prices are steady and unemployment has dropped to a 42-year low of 4.3%. Disaster has been avoided. What went right?"

The magazine argues in an informative article which you can find here, that

1) The argument that consumer spending would collapse after a "leave vote" was always overstated - the majority of the electorate would have got what they voted for and for the minority the actual exit from the EU was still some way off.

"Meanwhile, Britain remains an attractive place for foreign investors, in part because of its trusted legal system and low rate of corporation tax."

2) "The global economy has also helped. The Brexit vote coincided with the beginning of the first worldwide economic upswing in years. Global trade volumes have grown decently."

"Firms from Seattle to Shanghai have recovered some of their animal spirits and are willing to invest once again. Britain, an economy highly dependent on international trade, has been swept along with everyone else."

3) The positive side of the drop in the pound has been to help exporters, who have been "given an extra boost by the depreciation of sterling, which is almost 10% below its pre-vote level. In the past year real-terms exports have risen by a tenth, though the British trade deficit remains in line with its post-financial-crisis average."

(In the past few days since the Economist published this the pound has risen a bit on the back of good economic figures: the currency is still trading below pre-referendum levels but not as much.)

So that's the position as a consequence of the vote itself. What will happen when we actually leave?

Well, this will depend on whether we can get better trade deals with the rest of the world, and how much access to EU markets we lose. Until we know the outcome of the negotiations and the precise terms of trade, any amount of economic modelling or expertise is hardly more use in predicting economic impacts than consulting a ouija board or throwing knuckle bones.

If Britain winds up with significantly poorer access to EU markets, it is unlikely that we will get enough benefit in the way of better deals with the rest of the world to avoid what the Economist rightly describes as "profoundly negative long-term economic consequences."

However, while there is still a lot of hard negotiating to do, I don't get the impression that the "punish Britain for Brexit" tendency within the EU, though it does exist, is currently as strong as those who have recognised that any deal which punishes Britain would also cause pain to at least some of the other 27 member states - particularly Germany at the time when they are bankrolling everyone else.

A deal we can live with is not by any means in the bag. But I think it can be obtained.

Remembering Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister and more than once voted the greatest Briton of all time, died 53 years ago yesterday.

He made mistakes - what human being does not? Some of his ideas would not be acceptable today. But without his courage and determination in the face of great evil, I dread to think what would have happened to our country and to the world in the face of the Nazi threat.

It was said of him in a famous quote by Ed Murrow (not Lord Halifax who was given the line in "The Darkest Hour") "He mobilised the English language and sent it iuto battle." Here is an extract from one of the speeches in which he did that, and a few more of his quotes.












Quote of the day 25th January 2018

"The far right and the far left often think they are the purest form of their peers; that Britain’s strength was founded in their cause, and that the misguided patriotism or adherence to their cause is just. They could not be more wrong."

(Johnny Mercer, Conservative MP, from an article

"Online abuse for female colleague and none for me. Why?"

in which he defends the Jewish female Labour MP with whom he appeared in a TV interview and who was the subject of a barrage of offensive comments.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Midweek music spot: "Windmills of Your Mind" sung by the Kings' Singers

The problem with identity politics ...

Good piece by Mark Wallace on Conservative Home about the problems with identity politics here.

DC on Brexit

David Cameron has said that the consequences to date of the Brexit vote have not been as bad as he feared they would be.

In remarks which have been gleefully repeated by some Brexit supporters he was recorded at the World Economic Forum in Davos saying that the Leave vote was "a mistake not a disaster".

Mr Cameron called the 2016 referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, campaigned for Remain in and resigned as Prime Minister after the Leave side won.

"As I keep saying, it's a mistake not a disaster," he was heard saying in a conversation with steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. "It's turned out less badly than we first thought. But it's still going to be difficult."

Unemployment falls again to new 42-year low

UK unemployment fell by 3,000 to 1.44 million in the three months to November, official figures show.

The number of those in work increased sharply, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

That leaves the UK's unemployment rate at a four-decade low of 4.3%.

"Demand for workers clearly remained strong," said ONS statistician David Freeman.

The pace of job creation was faster than economists had predicted. The ONS said the number of people in work rose by 102,000 in the three months to November, taking total employment to a record 32.2 million.

Higher consumer price inflation, due to weaker sterling, has left real pay 0.5% lower than a year earlier, but rising wages are beginning to close the gap.

"Today's jobs numbers once again strongly suggest that the UK economy is on a firmer footing than many had anticipated following the EU referendum vote," commented James Athey, senior investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Quote of the day for Cumbria Day, 24 the January 2018

“Cumbria’s food and drink industry is worth £300 million to our local economy and our produce has international recognition with three of the seven Michelin starred restaurants in the North West based in Cumbria.

“Cumbria Day showcases the food and drink on offer in Cumbria and The Byre CafĂ© is one of hundreds of food and drink businesses in Copeland, offering homemade jams, chutneys and preserves.

“The food and drink sector in Cumbria employs more than 16,000 people, therefore it is vitally important that we support our small and independently ran businesses throughout the year – they all work tremendously hard and I am looking forward to meeting each of the businesses and learning more about their produce next week.”


(Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, speaking last week about Cumbria day which is today.

She added that recent ONS figures revealed that the farming and food manufacturing industries in Cumbria contributed five per cent of the county’s economic output, compared with two per cent in the rest of the UK.

More about Cumbria day here,)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ursula Le Guin RIP

Ursula K Le Guin, author of the "Wizard of Earthsea" trilogy and other SF or Fantasy classics such as "The Left Hand of Darkness" died yesterday at the age of 88.

She was a fantastic, original and very creative writer and will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

This coming Satuirday will be Holocaust Memorial Day

This Saturday, 27th January 2018 will be the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and will be commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day.

As I have previously posted, there are two opposite errors we can make in respect of ghastly events like the Nazi Holocaust or indeed any other genocide.

One is to remember in a way which fuels the cycle of hate: the other is to try to forget.

I firmly believe that if we insist that terrible crimes like Hitler's "final solution" must never be forgotten, then similar events are less likely to recur - provided we also remember that there are good and bad people in any race or other category of human beings and that seeking revenge for perceived past wrongs not against individuals but against entire races was the main cause of the catastrophe.

Those who died at the hands of the Nazis, and the victims of every other genocide, should be remembered not as symbols or as part of a collective group, but as individual human beings, each of whose deaths cost the world a unique and precious life, snuffed out by hatred.

There was an excellent piece in the Guardian on a previous Holocaust Memorial Day which quoted the stories of six Holocaust survivors, which you can read at


What impresses me most about these stories is how little anger and hate these writers displayed. This was enormously to their credit. Perhaps next time we are tempted to get angry with people for, say, expressing an opinion which we don't happen to share or voting in a way which we think is foolish, it might be worth thinking about the way these people who had suffered so much more than most of us responded to it.

We must try to remember the horrors of genocide, but with sorrow, not with hate.

Meadow Road funds approved

Local Committee agreed today the devolved budget for road repairs and resurfacing in 2018/19. Meadow road in the Mirehouse part of my division was top of the list in Copeland with £120,000 agreed to "at least make a start" on the problem with a complete rebuild of the worst parts of the road.

Quote of the day 23rd January 2018


Monday, January 22, 2018

Whether it's Esther McVey, Diane Abbott, Laura Kuenssberg, or Cathy Newman, abusing people is wrong

A few days ago I posted a clip here of an interview of Canadian academic Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman.

Some people like Jordan Peterson and think that he dealt very well with Cathy Newman's questions: that's a perfectly reasonable opinion if expressed in a civilised way. Other people strongly disagree with his views and think she interviewed him very well, and exactly the same applies.

What is not OK is to abuse or threaten either of them because you disagree with the questions which Cathy Newman asked or with Jordan Peterson's responses.

As James Kirkup reports in the Spectator here, there has been entirely too much abuse of Cathy Newman for asking questions of the interviewee, which is her job, and this is as unacceptable as it was that some people on the left behaved in such a way that the BBC felt Laura Kuenssberg needed a bodyguard at Labour party conference.

The point applies whether the abuse is coming from the right or the left and whether it is a journalist or a politician.

It is entirely legitimate to say that you disagree with the policies of Esther McVey or Diane Abbott, and to call it out if you think either of them or any other politician has had a car crash interview, or produced numbers of policies which don't make sense. A certain amount of humorous teasing of politicians who have given grounds to suggest they may be mathematically challenged is also legitimate.

What is not legitimate is to criticise someone because of their gender, race or supposed weight, to refer to female politicians using insulting terms meaning a female dog or a prostitute, or to suggest even in jest and supposedly repeating the words of someone else that they should be lynched.

The level of abuse we are seeing against politicians of all parties, male and female (although what has been directed at women politicians appears to be particularly bad) is just not acceptable.

The comments made by John McDonnell about Esther McVey and the fact that he refused to apologise for them as reported here, should disqualify him from being shadow chancellor and therefore a candidate for one of the most important jobs in the country. Jeremy Corbyn's failure either to encourage McDonnell to withdraw those statements and apologise, or to sack him if he refused, raises serious questions about Corbyn's judgement and that is putting it very mildly.

Such comments should be unacceptable whichever side of the political trenches they come from.

A history of UKIP in sixty tweets

As the UK Independence party enters what looks like it might become a terminal tailspin ...

For political anoraks and lovers of original British comedy, Sebastian Payne has put up a "UKIP's greatest hits" thread which you can read even if you are not on twitter here.

Quote of the day 22nd January 2018



Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dealing with Trolls

There is a good article by Regan Chastain, who unfortunately has far more experience of online trolls than any of us would want, on how to cope with them here.

Congratulations to the England Cricket Team

 ... on their victory in the One-Day series in Australia.

After the Ashes series in which Australia played brilliantly and sadly managed to retake the Ashes in something close to a whitewash, many people will not have expecting that it would be some time before we were able to congratulate England's cricketers on any sort of series win against the Australians.

And they would have been wrong: an England victory in the one-day series is now certain as England won the third match today in what sounds like an immensely exciting match, which I will have to see if I can find time and a mechanism to watch. This means they have won all of the first three matches in the five-match series of one-day games and thus taken an unassailable 3:0 lead.

So yet again the "iron law" of English international cricket holds up - when England are doing really badly at test cricket our team carries all before them in the one day version of the game, while when England are winning test series against our strongest opponents we don't do as well in one-day matches. I cannot in my adult lifetime remember a season where England did really badly in both at the same time nor one in which we were winning everything in both at the same time.

Congratulations to our boys on what sounds like an epic and well-deserved win.

Sunday music spot: Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba"

Actually the real name of this piece is simply "Overture" and it introduces the final part of Handel's oratorio "Solomon."

But because it is followed by pieces of choral music which recount the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon's court, this overture has become known as "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba."

Quote of the day 21st January 2018


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saturday music spot: Handel, "The king shall rejoice"

On Heresy and Censorship

A few days ago I posted on this blog and on my Facebook page the statement by Richard Branson explaining why he had overturned the decision by a lower level of management at Virgin Trains not to sell the "Daily Mail" on Virgin Trains onboard shops.

As the one critical comment on this blog was anonymous it cannot be included in the analysis I am about to describe , but the response on my Facebook page was interesting for three reasons beyond the merits of the points made.

1) Almost to a man and woman, the contributors felt the need to insist that Virgin Trains had the right to impose the original ban, something which neither I nor the articles critical of it to which I had linked had challenged at any point, in any way whatsoever.

2) There was an almost perfect correlation between the way the contributors had voted in the EU referendum and how strongly opposed they were to the referendum result and how supportive they were of Virgin Trains' original decision. Without exception "Hard Remainers" who commented were  supportive, usually strongly so, of the original ban. "Soft Remainers" who voted Remain but have accepted the result took a more nuanced position. Leave voters who read the post mostly "liked" it and moved on without commenting - which I take to be an endorsement of Richard Branson's decision to reverse the ban. There were one or at the most two Leave voters who commented, and the one person who I know to be a Leave supporter who commented also took a nuanced view, though it started with the words "Basically, everyone is wrong."

3) Practically every person who commented including those who agreed that the ban was a mistake got into a semantic argument over the use of the word "censorship." Virtually all of them were "more royalist than the King" in the sense that they objected to the use, even with qualifications, of the word "censorship" to describe the original decision to drop the Daily Mail even though Richard Branson himself had twice used it and made clear that the wish to avoid being seen as, quote, "censoring what our customers read" had been his primary reason for overturning the original decision.


I think the debate on whether people should read or advertise in newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun caught up in a culture war in British and indeed European society (and there is a similar debate in many other societies such as the USA and Canada.)

I am not going to get into a semantic argument over the use of the word "Censorship" - having looked it up in the dictionary I think you can argue either way whether it applies to the original Virgin Trains decision. My problem in arriving in a suitable definition is that if you go for a very precise and narrow definition of the word it will be so limited in what it would catch as to be almost useless, while a  broader definition of the term, something like "attempting to suppress the expression by others of an opinion you disapprove of" could potentially catch all manner of things I personally regard as entirely reasonable, as for example if I remove an offensive post about the deceased person from an obituary published on this blog.

Of course, that is hardly the same thing as state censorship because removing an offensive comment from my own blog, timeline or site does not stop the originator from posting it on his or her blog or page. But then Richard Branson could have given the same defence for Virgin Trains not selling the Daily Mail, and was in my humble opinion wise not to do so - not because Virgin should be forced to sell the DM but because the original decision had been presented by VT in a way which as good as admitted that it was an act of censorship.

I do think that some of the attacks on the press from a wide range of political directions, whether it is the Donald Trump "fake news" narrative or similar comments from Corbynistas, and campaigns like "Stop Funding Hate," whether you call it censorship or not, are damaging to and subversive of democracy, and it may have been unfortunate for Virgin Trains that their decision was seen as another example of the same sort of attack.

I think there is a worrying modern tendency on all sides and in many countries to demonise those who express different views which amounts to a modern form of the search for Heresy.

Let's take the reaction of some people to the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson. Let me make clear that I am not endorsing his views, but it is reasonable to describe some of those views as "controversial" and the reaction of many people to him can be illustrated by Cathy Newman's line of questioning in this interview on Channel 4:


He also holds what are seen in some quarters as the "wrong" views on some of the incredibly difficult issues about transgender people and how to speak about them.

There is an article in the Spectator here, called

"Beware the modern day heretic hunters,"

about how another Canadian university treated a junior academic who showed her class a video clip of Jordan Peterson.

I don't think freedom of thought or speech are as safe as we need them to be.

Quote of the day 20th January 2018

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday music spot: J.S. Bach's Triple Concerto in A minor

Quote of the day 19th January 2018

"Mr Trump is a deeply flawed man without the judgement or temperament to lead a great country. America is being damaged by his presidency. But after a certain point, raking over his unfitness becomes an exercise in wish-fulfilment because the subtext is so often the desire for his early removal from office.

That is a fantasy."

"Mr Trump's mental state is imposible to diagnose from afar, but he does not appear to be any madder than he was when the voters chose him over Hillary Clinton."

"Unless he can no longer recognise himself in the mirror (which in Mr Trump;'s case would surely be one of the last powers to fade) neither his cabinet nor Congress will vote him out.

Nor should they. Alarm at Mr Trump's vandalism to the dignity and norms of the presidency cuts both ways."

"Every time Mr Trump's critics put their aim of stopping him before their means of doing so, they feed partisanship and help set a precedent that will someday be used against a good president fighting a worthy but unpopular cause."


(Extracts from a leader article in The Economist about the first year of the Trump administration.)

In other words, if you believe in democracy, you need to have much stronger reasons than not liking the result of an election to try to remove someone before the term for which they were elected is up.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

When skills in different areas do not transfer ...

If you wanted evidence that skill in one area does not always translate well into skill in another, you could not have a better example than to look at the mess made of it by many actors or singers who have intervened in politics. Case study for this month is the left-wing singer Lily Allen.

Ms Allen had to apologise to Rochdale child sex abuse victims after a crassly insensitive tweet which I will not repeat but the circumstances are described in a Daily Mirror report here.

Reality one, Lily Allen nil.

Also at the start of this month, when people of all persuasions were expressing - entirely justifiable - concern that the Parole Board is recommending convicted serial sex offender John Warboys for release, she launched a vicious and completely inaccurate attack on the government about the circumstances of his conviction, encouraging people to "direct your anger at this awful awful govt today."

There was a slight problem with this. The "awful awful govt" which was in power in 2009 when Warboys was convicted and the events she was complaining about took place was, of course, Gordon Brown's Labour government.

Describing the Brown administration as am awful, awful government would probably have been the only accurate comment she's ever posted on Twitter about politics, other than when apologising for one of her many gaffes, but I don't think that's what she meant to do.

And of course, ministers do not manage prosecutions: this is rightly devolved to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, the DPP in 2009 has since become a politician - he's Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

Reality two, Lily Allen nil.

This week Lily Allen tweeted a photograph of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and former Chancellor George Osborne apparently dining together (just as well she did this after the reshuffle or she might have got him sacked) and claimed that it showed Grayling dining in London on the day that Monarch Airlines collapsed.

However, the new Conservative Deputy Chairman, James Cleverley was on the case, and pointed out that on the day Monarch Airlines collapsed Chris Grayling was not in London but in Manchester, meeting Monarch Airline Passengers at Manchester Airport and then speaking at Conservative party conference.

Poor Lily had to apologise again.

Reality three, Lily Allen nil.

Like any other citizen of a democracy, singers and actors have every right to express their views about politics. It's just important to remember that their skill in singing or acting gives them no special insight into how you run a country and their views about politics are no more significant - or less significant - than those of anyone else.

Copeland Local Committee 23rd January 2018

The Copeland Local Committee of Cumbria County Council (which consists of all twelve county councillors representing divisions in the area of Copeland Borough Council) will be meeting on Tuesday (23rd January) at the Town Hall and Masonic Centre in Cleator Moor at 10.15 am.

The meeting is open to the public for those whose work and travel position allows them to attend.

The agenda and committee reports are available on the CCC website here.

There are a lot of important issues on the agenda, but probably the most important is to consider the allocation of the budget devolved to the committee for £2018/19.

This includes the prioritisation for major road resurfacing and rebuild schemes. Top of the list of a proposal to spend £120k on a major resurfacing of Meadow Road, Mirehouse, which is in the area I represent. That road is in a terrible condition and badly needs action so I will of course be supporting the proposal.

Follow the link above and click on the committee report if you want to see where any other road or footpath repair scheme is in the queue. If you are a resident in my division and think something is missing which urgently needs attention, please drop me a line before Tuesday. (I already have a couple in mind.

Also on the agenda are a number of proposals from the Highways Working group, following public consultation on changes to parking regulations (mostly extra double yellow lines,) and some important reports on health and children's services.

Be careful if you have to travel today

In my part of Whitehaven last night's snow soon turned to sleet and by this morning most of what is left is slush, but over the county as a whole road conditions are treacherous and Cumbria Police have tweeted that there are reports of a lot of road accidents.

Be careful if you have to travel today.

Quote of the day 18th January 2018

"In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn't puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated."

(Margaret Atwood, from a Globe and Mail article explaining why she called for due process to be followed in the case of an academic accused of sexual harassment.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meadow Road and Derwentwater Road.

Following on from several posts written here starting on New Year's Eve about potholes in the Mirehouse West in general, and Meadow Road and Derwentwater Road in particular, here is a progress report.

Derwentwater Road, which had potholes like craters, is being fixed this week, with a short term solution (but a bit longer term than just filling with tarmac - it also intended to seal the potholes to stop the material just washing out. A contractor is being sought to come back in February and do a more thorough rebuild which we hope will last longer.

Meadow Road, which in places such as near McColls is in nearly as bad a condition and is also a significant bus route, is in need of a complete rebuild such as was done in 2017 for Homewood Road near the Hospital.

It is being proposed on the agenda for the Copeland Local Committee of Cumbria County Council next Tuesday (23rd January) that Meadow Road should be the first item on the highways improvement programme for 2018/19 and that £120,000 should be spent sorting the road out.

I honestly don't know whether that will be enough, but it should at least make a start on the worst of the problem and I will, of course, be supporting the proposal.

As I said in previous posts on this subject, if anyone in another part of my division is reading this and thinking "What about my road?" please drop me a line and I will try make sure it is also on the list.

On NHS Funding

In posting this I am not for one moment suggesting that the NHS is not under great pressure or ruling out the idea that still more resources may be required.

I am merely pointing out that the problems the health service faces are because of increased demand, not because the government has failed to put any more money into it.




Channel 4 Factcheck endorsed Dominic Raab's claims that the Conservatives have put £12 billion more into the NHS after allowing for inflation and recently promised a further £6 billion during this parliament, that there are more doctors working in the NHS than ever before and that the NHS has more flu vaccines available than ever before. See link here.)

Quote of the day 17th January 2018


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

UK inflation rate drops to 3%

The UK's inflation rate has fallen for the first time since June.

The inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Prices Index dipped to 3% in December, down from November's rate of 3.1% according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

ONS said it was too early to say whether this was the start of a longer-term reduction in the rate of inflation.

The Bank of England has said it thinks inflation peaked at the end of 2017 and will fall back to its target of 2% this year.

The rate had been rising over the past year, partly due to the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote which has pushed up the cost of imported goods. That appears to have been a once-and-for-all increase which is beginning to work its' way out of the figures.

Carillion

Obviously the collapse of Carillion is not good news for their employees, the small businesses which sold things to them, or the businesses which employed them.

I am sure the government is right that the company should not be bailed out by taxpayers and to order a review of the actions and remuneration of the directors of the company.

There will be lessons to learn from this and they should be learned - the disastrous record of the New Labour government's PFI schemes is evidence enough that not every private-public collaboration is a good one.

Equally we should be careful not to adopt contradictory views. In the past 36 hours I have heard it suggested by various commentators just seconds apart both that the government was shouldering all the risk while leaving private companies like Carillion to make all the profits, and that the collapse happened because the government had screwed the prices for contractors like Carillion right down so that they were not making enough profit.

Obviously those criticisms cannot both be accurate.

The first thing to do is ensure that someone able to cope with them, whether public or private sector, takes over the public services Carillion was running. The next thing is to try to minimise the numbers of innocent people hurt by the crash. Then we must look at learning lessons for the future.

Quote of the day 16th January 2018


Monday, January 15, 2018

Second quote of the day 15th January 2018 - RIchard Branson reverses the DM ban

Richard Branson has issued the following statement today on the Virgin website, here.


"When Virgin Trains took the decision back in November to remove the Daily Mail from sale, it was not part of some grand campaign or at my behest – indeed Brian Souter and I were not aware of the decision until we read the media reports this week.

The decision was made in response to feedback from some of our Virgin Trains employees. Brian and I respect our people when they make decisions and we listen to their views. It is the way we have always run our companies.

But we must also listen to the concerns voiced widely this week – by those who agree with The Mail’s editorial stance and those who vehemently disagree with it – that this move has been seen as censorship.

Freedom of speech, freedom of choice and tolerance for differing views are the core principles of any free and open society. While Virgin Trains has always said that their passengers are free to read whatever newspaper they choose on board West Coast trains, it is clear that on this occasion the decision to no longer sell The Mail has not been seen to live up to these principles.

Brian and I agree that we must not ever be seen to be censoring what our customers read and influencing their freedom of choice. Nor must we be seen to be moralising on behalf of others. Instead we should stand up for the values we hold dear and defend them publicly, as I have done with The Mail on many issues over the years.

So Brian and I have instructed our team at Virgin Trains to reconsider this decision and re-stock the Daily Mail while they undertake a full review of their sales policy, making clear that this policy should not single out individual media titles."

This has to be the right decision and I welcome this move by Richard Branson. If you don't sell something because the customers don't want it, that is a commercial decision. If you don't sell it because you disagree with it's position, you are starting down the slippery slope to censorship.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Captain Rick Jolly RIP

Surgeon Captain Rick Jolly, who was honoured by both Britain and Argentina for saving the lives of hundreds of wounded from both nations during the Falklands War, died yesterday at the age of 71.

He set up a field hospital which treated about a thousand casualties, and despite there being more than one unexploded bomb on the site he and his colleagues continued to operate. Every casualty who arrived at that field hospital alive was saved. Link here.

Captain Jolly also saved several people from drowning by literally plucking them from the sea - he was lowered from a helicopter to rescue them.

When you look up the word "Hero" in a dictionary, you should find a picture of Captain Rick Jolly there.

Rest in Peace.