Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Boris Johnson pinches his new Special Advisor from Nicola Sturgeon

In one of the more interesting turnarounds of the last past week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has recruited as his new Special Advisor, David Frost someone who was previously advising the Scottish government about BREXIT.

Mr Frost said at the time Ms Sturgeon set up the Standing Council on Europe that it is important to "bring clarity to the transition to Brexit as soon as possible" and that the UK government should work to "ensure the current open trading environment is not affected."

ONS says that earnings are rising fastest for the low-paid

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that over year to April 2016 earnings have risen fastest among the lowest paid, apparently due to the introduction of higher minimum wage levels.

Wages rose by 6.2% for the lowest paid UK workers, above the national average, thereby reducing wage inequality between April 2015 and early April 2016, the figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate.

The pay gap between men and women has also shrunk slightly, it said.

Pay overall rose at its joint highest rate since the financial crisis, driven by wage rises in the private sector. Weekly earnings for full-time workers were 2.2% higher in April from a year earlier, or by 1.9% after inflation.
Despite the increases, the Resolution Foundation think tank points out that typical earnings still remain 6.8% below pre-financial crisis levels. The median average full-time worker was paid £539 a week - or £28,028 a year - before tax in April 2016.

In a sign of the growing "gig" economy - in which workers have a more flexible, short-term, sporadic work pattern - part-time earnings were up by 6.6%.

Generally, a worker in the highest paid 5% of employees saw a 2.5% rise in earnings in the year to April, but it was the lowest paid who have seen the fastest increase.

The National Living Wage (NLW) came into force on 1 April, requiring employers to pay workers aged 25 and over at least £7.20 an hour. This led to an immediate pay rise for 1.8 million workers.

Workers aged 21 to 24 have been paid the National Minimum Wage of £6.95 an hour since 1 October. Previously it was £6.70 an hour.

Hourly earnings, excluding overtime, for full-time jobs among the lowest-paid increased by 5.9% from £6.86 to £7.26 between 2015 and 2016.

Another example of why I called for a moratorium on Nazi comparisons

Here is a classic example of a talented speaker abusing his abilities in a way which discredits both Britain and the arguments which he is making.

It also illustrates the point I made a few days ago when I appealed to people of all parties to hold off on comparing anyone they disagree with to Hitler and the Nazis.

A few years ago I and my Conservative colleagues in Copeland said, as you can read in a letter to the Whitehaven News from our then chairman here, that it was inappropriate for the Labour MP for Copeland to compare David Cameron to Nazi collaborator and traitor Vidkun Quisling.

It was equally wrong for Nigel Farage to compare Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to Quisling in this speech in the European parliament, for exactly the same reasons.

Farage was rightly picked up by the chair for doing this just as Jamie Reed was asked to withdraw his similar comparison by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. As you can see in the clip below, he declined to apologise and tried to justify the comparison.

It takes courage to admit you have got something wrong and apologise. For me the lowest point in the referendum campaign was when Michael Gove compared Nobel Prize winning economists with Nazi collaborators, but I will say this for him - when Gove made an utterly inappropriate Nazi comparison, at least he had the guts to retract it and apologise. That makes him a bigger man than Nigel Farage.

The post-satire era - more true words spoken in jest?

There seem to be more and more posts on "spoof" news websites like the Boris Johnson one referred to in the previous post which have far too much truth in them.

Others have titles like "Paul Nuttall is not leadership material even for UKIP" and Battle of Hastings latest: you lost, get over it, Normans tell Anglo-Saxons" (That one finishes with a Norman saying "It's time to accept the result and shut up about it, I doubt people will still be moaning about Brexit in a thousand years" and getting the reply "Oh yes we will."),

And in amongst them is one called World enters post-satire era from News Thump which is way, way too close to the truth for comfort.

Lines from this include

"The world has entered a new era where it has become impossible to distinguish between satire and reality."

“If a merry online japester makes up something utterly outrageous and unbelievable about, say, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin the odds are now 50/50 that it will come true within 48 hours."

“We can trace this to what we call the Corbyn/Farage event, when reality stopped being something you interact with and became something you stared at in silent, despairing disbelief wondering if it’s all some kind of horrid joke."

The piece concludes with something which actually is, so far, a joke, adding that the UN has appealed to writers of internet jokes not to run any gags about World War III.

Though one is beginning to wonder ...

Many a True Word is spoken in jest

I heard a people talking in the post office yesterday about the fact that Boris has threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers at Heathrow and suggesting that this was a positive reason to support the third runway.

The article, "Tickets to watch Boris Johnson lie down in front of Heathrow bulldozers sell out in seconds"  on the News Thump site may be an example of  a true word spoken in jest ...

Quote of the day 26th October 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The "Ed Stone" comes back to bite Labour again

You'd think even the Labour party would not forget something as obvious as an eight foot block of granite when submitting their election expenses returns, but apparently not ...
Labour has been fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to declare all of its general election expenses - including the stone tablet unveiled during the campaign, the 8 foot so-called .
"Ed Stone", carved with ex-leader Ed Miliband's key pledges.

The commission's investigation was prompted by calls from journalists asking why Labour's 2015 general election return, published in January, did not include the stone carving, which was widely mocked after being unveiled. It turned out that failing to declare  two payments totalling £7,614 relating to the tablet was not the only mistake in Labour's election expenses return. These two payments were  among £123,748 of payments missing from Labour's 2015 election return.

A further 33 receipts, worth £34,392, were missing, the commission said.

The £20,000 is the highest fine it has imposed since it was formed in 2001.


Operation "Nelly the Elephant" continues (goodbye to "The Jungle!")

French officials say that the clearance of the unofficial refugee camp known as "The Jungle"  continues on schedule and will be complete by Friday.

(If the operation has a title it really should be "Operation Nelly the Elephant." after the expression "Goodbye to the Jungle" in that song.)

I hope the people dismantling the camp can make sure that any unaccompanied child refugees - and I mean real children, not me posing as children - in the "Jungle" are treated with compassion. As such children were already greatly at risk as long as the camp was in existence and they were in it, I don't believe that taking action to close it was necessarily heartless or wrong.

However, we should not assume that everything will go smoothly. The French authorities admit that they think 200 people will try to stay. I hope their contingency plans if the number proves larger than that are robust.

Heathrow expansion

There is no ideal solution to the question of airport capacity in the UK.

Even much smaller airports than Heathrow and Gatwick, such as Luton, put enormous pressure on the local road and rail network - as I know because the impact of Luton Airport was an extremely sensitive issue when I was a St Albans councillor.

Both Heathrow and Gatwick already contribute to serious congestion on the M25 and on local rail services.

So it is not surprising that the government proposal today to expand Heathrow was controversial.

However, I don't think we can put our heads in the sand and pretend that the number of runways which was adequate for the South East of England 75 years ago will still be adequate a hundred years later in 2041 (It is 75 years since we built a new runway in that part of the country.)

I am attracted to the "Boris Island" concept for a new airport in the Thames Estuary but unfortunately am not convinced that it is either practical of affordable.

Britain needs to make a decision and the route the government is following - publishing a firm proposal for a new runway today, allowing a year for consultation and debate, then putting it to a parliamentary vote - seems to me to be  both a sensible and a democratic procedure.

I am generally in favour of the principle of collective government responsibility, which I think needs to apply most of the time on most subjects, but I think Theresa May has shown strength rather than weakness in allowing Boris Johnson and Justine Greening a partial exception on this issue.

Zac Goldsmith has honoured his long-standing promise to trigger a by-election if a Conservative government proposed a third runway at Heathrow. This is one of a number of areas where I disagree with him, but I respect Zac for sticking to his principles and his promise.

Let everyone on all sides of the argument put their cases forward and then let parliament decide.

Quote of the day 24th October 2016

"Freed of the brake that Britain put on developments, old integrationist aims have been dusted down.  The core of an EU army has been put forward.  New proposals on Europe-wide insolvency protection measures are being proposed.  The European Commission has sanctioned Apple, and Ireland, for their tax arrangements.  Ten countries are pressing ahead with a financial transaction tax.  Less Europe has so far found no takers.

In Britain the different camps have read into this what they want to see. 

Leavers see this as proof that the EU was always going to integrate further and faster and that Remain’s lies to the contrary have been exposed. 

Remainers see this as proof that without Britain’s influence the EU will develop in a way that is harmful to Britain (and to the EU’s own interests).  Take your pick. 

Both can be true, of course."

(Alistair Meeks, article about current EU attitudes to Britain following the Brexit vote on the Political Betting site.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Goodbye to the Jungle?

The existence of the "Jungle" migrant camp outside Calais is not in anyone's interests.

It is not in the interests of the refugees who are there because conditions are terrible.

It is not in the interests of the people of France because the camp has created a serious public order problem.

It is not in the interests of the people of Britain because some - not necessarily all - of the residents of the camp and the "people-smuggler" gangsters who are exploiting them have been using violence and intimidation to try to blackmail tourists and truckers to get them into Britain.

It is not in the interests of refugees still in the middle east because the existence of the camp may tempt them to attempt dangerous and illegal routes to try to gain entry to Britain - which are probably not those most likely to be successful.

So I hope the attempt to disperse the camp this week is successful. But I am not holding my breath.

Britain, while spending more on providing food, shelter and medical care in the Middle East than the rest of the EU put together, had made clear that where we took our share of refugees from the area we would do so directly from the refugee camps in the middle east and on the basis of need. I am convinced that this was the right policy to make sure that we discouraged people from giving their life savings to "people smuggler" gangsters and risking their lives.

It was entirely predictable that after Britain was persuaded to take some child refugees from the "Jungle" camp by comparisons to the Kindertransport which rescued children from the Holocaust, there would be  outrage when photographs of adult males appeared in newspapers with the suggestion that they had managed to get into Britain by abusing this act of charity.

It would probably be sensible to refrain from jumping to the conclusion that everything we read in the papers about this is true.

There are no easy answers. Let's not demonise people who have different views about how to find a compassionate and practical way to resolve this which our country can accept.

Press freedom: government "to examine more options"

Following my blog post yesterday urging the government not to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 it appears that they are still considering the issue and are not falling into the trap of automatic activation of the measure as soon as they are asked to do so.

Ultimately I would like to see the idea of activating this section of the law abandoned, but I am pleased that the government is not making a Gadarene dash to implement it.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has insisted she will not be rushed into activating regulations which could see newspapers face "exemplary" damages if they are sued for libel unless they sign up to a state-backed system of press regulation.

The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) - which was established in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards - is due to rule on Tuesday whether to recognise Impress, a new regulator set up by Hacked Off campaigner Max Mosley.

If it does, Ms Bradley will have to consider whether to activate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would mean that any newspaper that refused to sign up to the new regulator could have to pay the legal fees of a complainant who sued them for libel, even if the paper won the case.

The threat of that action has concerned many newspapers who have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of any form of state regulation, warning that it would be a threat to press freedom.

Appearing before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Ms Bradley acknowledged that the majority of newspapers were not prepared to consider applying for recognition under the PRP, which was established by a royal charter.

While she said she had not ruled out activating Section 40 at some point in the future, she wanted to consider the options for achieving "appropriate levels of robust regulation... outside the PRP".

She told MPs that there were fears among local newspapers in particular that they could be forced out of business if the Government took an overly "ideological" approach to the issue.

"In 2013 when we debated and passed the Act it was a different situation. We expected and hoped that the press would join regulators that applied for recognition under the PRP. That simply has not happened," she said.

"I could do an ideological position on this but the implications of being ideological on this may be that we see a vibrant free local press being affected.

"It has been put to me very clearly by a number of editors of local newspapers that the exemplary damages section of Section 40 could see them being put out of business and certainly would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism.

"I want to consider those representations, consider them very carefully, and then make a determination. I am reserving judgment at this stage until I have had a chance to consider all the options."

Quote of the day 24th October 2016

"Artificial Intelligence could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. It could also be the last."

(Professor Stephen Hawking)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Don't activate Section 40

There are a lot of contenders for the description of the most ridiculous or unjust act put on the statute book in the last fifty years.

Some would nominate Section 28: others might nominate Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which until it was repealed in 2013 made it a criminal offence to insult somebody. The ban on Beef on the Bone and the Dangerous Dogs act would probably also get a mention.

One of the daftest has not - yet - been implemented but there is a possibility that ministers might shortly be asked to activate it. They should refuse.

Ironically the very same bill which removed one ridiculous law included another one.

Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 scrapped the law that meant that it could be a criminal offence to insult someone.

Unfortunately Section 40 of the same act has a serious claim to be one of the most unjust and one-sided laws ever passed.

The Leveson Inquiry into the activities of the Press, and the Phone Hacking trials, demonstrated that there were some serious problems in the way certain journalists were behaving and that some of them had an unhealthy relationship with the police. So it is not surprising that "Hacked Off" and others wanted action.

However, it is important for the workings of British democracy that action does not become over-reaction. Let's not forget that the pre-Leveson law was quite strong enough to bring those accused of the worst abuses exposed by the inquiry before a court, including some of the most powerful people in Britain, and to obtain convictions, and some very rich and powerful people went to jail.

Because of the message sent by those convictions it is much less likely that the worst excesses exposed by the Leveson Inquiry would happen again today, and if they did it is far from obvious that draconian new press laws are needed to deal with them.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is an example of such a draconian law. I very much doubt that it was ever intended to actually be used: it is on the statute book as a threat to newspapers designed to ensure their good behaviour and to blackmail them into signing up to a supposedly "voluntary" regulatory regime. It does not come into effect until the government activates it and in my opinion one of David Cameron's wiser decisions was that he never did activate it.

One of the things which section 40 says is that if you don't like something written about you in a newspaper, and you sue them, they have to pay your legal costs. Not just if you win, which would be fair enough, but if you are proved to be a liar and the newspaper wins, they can still be told to pay your legal bills.

Now I am all in favour of protecting people, whether they are high or low, from having the newspapers write lies about them or invade their privacy. But it is utterly wrong to protect anyone, high or low, from having newspapers tell the truth about them in a matter of legitimate public concern!

It has been suggested that the government may soon be asked by the new press regulator set up under the Leveson recommendations to activate Section 40. For the sake of a free press in Britain, I really, really hope they don't do it.

As DA'ESH falls back more atrocities are discovered

Let us hope that the liberation of Mosul from DA'ESH (the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" caliphate) proceeds as quickly as possible so that the authors of atrocities like this do not have more opportunities to inflict their sick, sadistic and murderous activities on anyone for much longer.

(Warning - the link above is not for the squeamish.)

Sadly many of the fanatics responsible for the genocidal crimes of DA'ESH have no more respect for their own lives than they have for those of the innocent children they have ben murdering in horrible ways, so it is likely that they will resist strongly. But although we have made mistakes when we intervened in the Middle East in the past, helping the Iraquis and Kurds to liberate their country from the monsters of the so-called Caliphate - and don't forget, British forces in Iraq this time are assisting an elected government, however imperfect, to defend itself and rescue its people from probably the most evil regime of the 21st century.

Sunday Music Spot "In native worth and honor clad" from Haydn's Creation

Quote of the day 23rd October 2016

"When people ask me whether I think Project Fear lost us the referendum, I answer that Project Fear did in fact win. Just not ours.

"Our problem is that the other side was much better at fear-mongering.

"Their threats — of mass immigration, Turkey’s membership, and a European army — were far scarier to the British voters than our warnings of an economic slowdown."

(Daniel Korski, deputy director of the policy unit in David Cameron’s government, in a fascinating article, "Why-we-lost-the-brexit-vote" giving the inside story of the Remain campaign from the Number Ten viewpoint.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Schrodinger's pardon

Following on from my post earlier today here I have just seen an explanation of the legal issues relating to the so called "Turing Bill" by James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the Unviersity of Glasgow, with the magnificent title of

"Schrodinger's Pardon: the difficulties of the Turing bill."

That title is of course a reference to Schrodinger's Cat in the eponymous thought experiment in Quantum Physics, which manages to be both alive and dead at the same time until you look at it.

Chalmers disagrees with the "Nicholson bill" proposed by the SNP to give people in England and Wales convicted of historic sexual offences a pardon for a different reason from the government, which argued that it might give a pardon for people who had been convicted of something which is still illegal.

He argues instead that it would be completely unclear whether certain people would actually have been pardoned until they checked.

As he points out this, quote "defeats the purpose of the Bill, which was to pardon people automatically without them having to apply to the Home Secretary. We might, in an imperfect metaphor, say that the Bill creates a Schrödinger’s Pardon."

My word. I think I'll go back to trying to work out whether the European Court of Auditors have signed off the EU accounts or not - at least I have a modicum of professional training in understanding that one.

There is another irony. it seems rather ironic that Scottish National Party MPs at Westminster proposed a "Turing Bill" measure for England and Wales and complained about how fast and fat the UK government is moving, when the UK government's proposals would mean that the process is moved forward further and faster than anything which the SNP administration at Holyrood has so far brought forward in Scotland.

Traffic figures

Today this blog passed 600,000 pageviews since the traffic counters went live. Traffic has been running at about 700 pageviews a day for the past few days and just under 15,000 pageviews in the past month.

Thanks to everyone who visited and I hope you found it interesting.

Britain, Ireland and Brexit

There is a fascinating piece in the Irish Times by Fintan O'Toole called

"Britain's Irish question becomes Ireland's English question"

which I strongly recommend as worth a read. The article is about the role Ireland might play in helping Britain to come to a sensible agreement with the EU about what our relationship looks like after Brexit.

This will be anathema to those for whom "compromise" is a dirty word. Personally I do not belong to that group and I think Britain needs all the friends we can get at the moment to come to a workable compromise.

And that does not mean trying to sabotage the Brexit vote, it means trying to build a future outside the EU which retains the co-operation with our neighbours and friends which we need in everyone's interests.

The Turing Bill

It has been proposed that there should be a retrospective pardon for those like Alan Turing who were convicted, which has been called a "Turing Bill," and the government has promised to support this.

(It does not in fact apply to Alan Turing himself as he was given a posthumous Royal Pardon by the Queen in 2013.)

 However, there is more than one different proposal about exactly how it should be done.

Why then did Tory minister Sam Gyimah MP filibuster an SNP proposal yesterday to grant such pardons (in support of which Nigel Adams was speaking in my quote of the day.)

There has been a lot of outrage on social media about this, with the suggestion being made that the government has abandoned the promise. This is not necessarily correct as is explained by Kevin Maxwell in an article in the Independent which you can read here.

As he says,

"It was argued the SNP MP John Nicolson’s Bill would have wiped clean all historical sex crimes, whereas the Government said it wanted to ensure that offences that are still on the statute book today are not pardoned – such as those committed against children."

There was a lengthy and excellent debate the last three hours of which including the minister's speech can be read here.

You can read here details of the government's preferred route to a "Turing Bill" type pardon thorough an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill – now supported by the Government – put forward by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey.

Saturday music spot: Andy Williams sings the theme from "Love Story" (Where Do I Begin?)

Quote of the day 22nd October 2016

"During my first term in office I voted against equal marriage for a whole host of reasons.

"I thought at the time what I was doing was right but having now reflected and seen how that Act has made such a positive difference for thousands of couples around the country, I deeply regret that decision.

"I got it wrong. I can tell you, many in this House will know how difficult it is for a Yorkshireman to admit that they got anything wrong.

"So if I had the opportunity again, I'd vote differently. I want to apologise.

"I want to apologise to my friends, I want to apologise to family members and constituents who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

"I want them to know that I believe in their full equality.

"I won't have the chance to change that previous vote but I'm pleased to have the chance to stand in support of equality before the law today."

(Nigel Adams MP, who voted against the Equal Marriage act in 2013, apologises for and says he deeply regrets that vote while supporting the "Turing bill" to pardon those convicted of gay acts which have since been legalised.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fead God and Dread Naught ...

It was announced today that the first of the new generation of submarines to carry Britain's nuclear deterrent will be given one of the most significant names in Royal Navy history - HMS Dreadnaught.

There have been nine warships in the Royal Navy with this name: one sailed with Drake against the Armada, another with Nelson at Tragalgar 211 years ago today.

Perhaps the most historically significant, HMS Dreadnaught launched in 1906, instantly made every previous battleship in the world obsolete and from that point the name was used to describe all modern big-gun capital ships of the 20th century - but the HMS Dreadnaught launched in 1960 was historically almost as significant as she was Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine.

Let us hope that the ship whose name was announced today is as successful, and more so in keeping the peace through deterrence - and that her weapon systems never have to be used.

When both sides are right and you wish they weren't

You know what is the most depressing thing about the failure of CETA, the proposed trade deal between the EU and Canada, as Canada walks out of trade talks declaring a deal impossible and Brussels "incapable" after the treaty was blocked by one region of Belgium?

It's the fact that this proves BOTH the Remain side and the Leave side right about things where I'd really hoped they were wrong.

Ironically the vote by the Wallonia regional parliament in Belgium was driven by exactly the same sort of protectionist fears which some factions within the "Leave" side did their best to stir up during our own referendum and which contributed to the "Leave" win.

Nevertheless it certainly illustrates the difficulty which the Leave side's free traders pointed to during the referendum campaign - if the EU can't agree a trade deal with Canada who can it agree a trade deal with?

EU President Donald Tusk this week warned that if the Canadian deal fails then it could mean the EU will never strike another free trade treaty.

“If we are not able to convince people that trade agreements are in their interest .... I am afraid, that CETA could be our last free trade agreement,” he said.

Unfortunately this also demonstrates that one of the arguments made by the "Remain" side is likely to prove all too accurate.

When we leave the EU Britain will have to agree a new trading relationship with them. It never made any sense to suggest that the other EU countries were out to get Britain while we were inside the club but self-interest would force them to offer the UK a great deal as soon as we left.

Unfortunately the same sort of problem which has just wrecked CETA could all too easily make it difficult for Britain to get the kind of deal we need with the EU. There were people who said during the referendum that because it is overwhelmingly in the interests of German car manufacturers, French wine manufacturers, and other European commercial interests to have a fair and a sensible trade deal with Britain, the smaller countries of Europe would not dare tell Germany and France that they were blocking such a deal.

Well, it wasn't even a smaller country which just blocked CETA - it was a region of 3.5 million people within one country which has blocked a deal that all 28 national governments would have signed.

Britain cannot turn back now: we are committed by a democratic vote. But we need to be prepared for a long-haul period of hard bargaining and to make sure that the people doing the negotiating and behalf of Britain have as strong a hand as possible and are not undermined.

Trafalgar Day

There are two anniversaries today - I previously posted about Aberfan, but this is also the 211th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Britain - and Europe, and the world - owe a tremendous debt to the men of Nelson's fleet who on 21st October 1805 struck a vital blow against the ambitions of one of the most dangerous men ever to live.

Napoleon was a brilliant tactician and strategist, and not entirely without merit as a lawmaker and administrator, but he was also a ruthless megalomaniac. Any true democrat with a scintilla of imagination who has looked at the image Ingres created of Napoleon on his imperial throne, (below,) or visited his tomb at Les Invalides, should shudder at the idea of the kind of world such a man would have created. He built one of the most overwhelming personality cults which has existed in modern times - and came as close to conquering the world as any dictator in history.

Horatio Nelson and the sailors and marines of the Royal Navy whose efforts and sacrifice gained that overwhelming victory at Trafalgar played a crucial role in sparing the world that fate. Thanks to them there was no possibility that Napoleon could gain command of the sea: which meant Britain and much of the rest of the world was safe from him, and demonstrated that he was not invincible.

(The top picture in this post is by Montague Dawson: apart from Ingres, other artists featured include Stokes and Turner To the best of my knowledge these scans are all in the public domain but if anyone claims copyright on any of those images please contact me.)

Aberfan minute's silence at 9.15 this morning

Fifty years ago today 116 children died in the terrible Aberfan disaster when their school was buried in a pile of mining refuse.

This ghastly tragedy was an example of why people should always be ready to challenge authority and it should never be forgotten.

In memory of those who died and their families there will be a minute's silence at 9.15 am today, fifteen minutes after this post and exactly fifty years after the disaster. I will be observing it.

Rest in Peace

Quote of the day 21st October 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can we please have a two year moratorium on comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis

I have heard or read dozens of comparisons of various things to Hitler and the Nazis in the past twelve months.

Precisely two such comparisons were, in my humble opinion, reasonable and proportionate:

1) Hilary Benn and others compared DA'ESH (the so-called "Islamic State" caliphate) to the Nazis for the cruel and vicious way, including slavery, rape, and mass-murder amounting to genocide, that they treat people in their power.

2) Andrew Mitchell and others compared the bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian aircraft to the bombing of civilians in Guernica by Hitler's Nazis.

In these two cases, and these two cases only, specific and proportionate comparisons were made between ghastly crimes against humanity taking place now and similar actions by Nazi Germany.

All other comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis which I have heard in the past year, wherever they came from were at best unfortunate and in most cases were classic examples of Godwin's law.

Former Labour MP Tom Harris wrote an excellent article this week, called

"Can leftists please stop comparing everything they don't like to Hitler"

in which he made very pertinent criticisms of those like Ken Livingston and Britain's youngest MP, the SNP's Mhairi Black, who have effectively trivialised the Holocaust by making disproportionate or just plain wrong comparisons between their opponents, or the state of Israel, and the Nazis.

But it is not just the left who have fallen into this trap. Too many people on the right have done the same thing.

I have written many times before how disappointed I was with the behaviour and arguments put by too many people on both sides during the debate leading up to the referendum in June about British membership of the EU.

In my opinion by far the worst incident on either side in that truly dreadful campaign was when Michael Gove compared Nobel Prize-winning economists whose views on Brexit he disagreed with to German scientists who were paid by the Nazis to denounce Einstein because he was Jewish.

If I live to be a hundred I will never understand how a highly intelligent man like Michael Gove could possibly have imagined that such a grotesque comparison could be seen as anything other than incredibly offensive and grossly unjust.  He did apologise but the damage was done.

Can I suggest that everyone on both left and right, both pro and anti Brexit, should have a self imposed ban on all comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis for at least a couple of years.

An Adam Smith Institute case against "Hard Brexit"

I must take issue with the accusation by some "Remain" supporters such as Ben Chu  that leaving the EU immediately with no trade deal and scrapping all import tariffs is an unworkable "libertarian fantasy."

Because this appears to be unfair to at least some libertarians.

A comprehensive pro free-market demolition of the case for that course of action can be found at the Adam Smith Institute's website, written by Sam Bowman and called

"The free-market case for hard-Brexit doesn't add up.

He argues instead of an "open Brexit" which maximises our ability to trade with the rest of the world including as much access as we can get in reasonable terms to the European single market and which would probably look very much like "Flexcit."

Ben Chu's piece makes a sensible attempt to categorise the possible outcomes Britain could try to negotiate into five categories as follows:

* "Brexit One" the Norway/EEA option)

* "Brexit Two"  Flexcit - adopt the Norway/EEA option for a temporary period while negotiating a comprehensive Free Trade deal

* "Brexit Three" Comprehensive Free Trade deal with the EU

* "Brexit Four" Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal in place and trade with Europe under World Trade Organisation rules.

* "Brexit Five" Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal – but unilaterally scrap all import tariffs. - e.g. the model which Sam Bowman demolishes in  the ASI blogpost linked to above.

It does to some extent depend what terms are available under each of these, but I cannot see any realistic short and medium term alternative to strategy two. The Norway option is not politically possible as it is basically just second class EU membership with almost all the drawbacks and not as many of the advantages and, in particular, would not allow us to "take back control" of our borders.

However the economic price for models four and five is likely to be unacceptable. Option three is probably our best long-term solution but there is not a snowball's chance in Hell that we will be able to get a comprehensive trade deal in two years.

Canada have been working on their trade deal with the EU for seven years and it appeared to be almost sorted out but there is now a serious danger that Wallonia, a region of Belgium with a population of 3.5 million people, will block the whole thing.

(And before anyone who voted Leave makes any comment about how this shows how difficult it is to get agreement to do things which are needed through the EU's decision making processes are, you might have a point but nevertheless the people in Wallonia who oppose the deal with Canada are making exactly the sort of protectionist and anti-globalist noises which elements of the Leave Campaign in Britain used to stir up opposition to TTIP and to EU membership.)

Hence the option of having the Norway solution in the short term while working on a comprehensive trade deal, and hoping that nobody like the Walloons vetoes it, will almost certainly be Britain's best bet. It won't be an easy two years - or, probably, an easy five to ten years - for the negotiators.

Delivering a Britain that works for everyone: building more homes

Quote of the day 20th October 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Road works at Flatt Walks in Whitehaven now finished.

Thank Goodness!

Traffic patterns have returned to something resembling normal in Whitehaven as the roadworks next to McDonalds have finished,

The Future of Maternity at West Cumberland Hospital

Conservatives locally in West Cumbria have been campaigning to keep services at West Cumberland Hospital and exercising our rights to say so under the terms of the consultation now under way.

The Prime Minister has written to the local MP explaining what she has been advised the "success regime" think about the maternity proposals as you can read here.

This does not mean that individual members of the Conservative party are required to support the "success regime" proposals where we think they are not in the interests of the area and we have no intention of doing so. 

I believe I speak for the vast majority of active Conservative members in West Cumbria when I say that we have no intention of supporting any option other than Consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital or anything else which reduces the provision of safe, accessible services at WCH.

Earnings up by 2.3%, Unemployment rate steady

Average weekly earnings grew by 2.3% in the year to August, which compared to the inflation rate of 1% released earlier in the week suggests real incomes are rising.
Meanwhile the UK Unemployment rate held steady at a near 11-year low of 4.9% in the three months to August, figures show.
Unemployment saw a "small" rise of 10,000 to 1.66 million, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

"These figures show that employment continued to grow over the summer and vacancies remain at high levels, suggesting continuing confidence in the economy," the statement said.

ONS statistician Nick Palmer added that although there was a "small rise" in unemployment, it was accompanied by more people actively seeking work.

The figures also showed the total number of people in jobs remained at a record high of 31.8 million.

In the three months to August, 73.4% of women were either in work or seeking jobs, the highest rate since records began in 1971, the ONS said.

Employment Minister Damian Hinds welcomed the data, but said: "There's more to do, particularly when it comes to supporting young people into employment."

WCH raised at PMQs

The provision of 24 hour emergency care at West Cumberland Hospital was raised today at Prime Minister's Question time.

The "Preferred option" recommended by the "Success Regime" is to retain that cover but there are other options which would not and it is important to send a strong message.

The consultation is still open and will remain so until December - if you have not yet had your say please do so at

Quote of the day 19th October 2017

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Boundary changes

There is a consultation at the moment about proposed boundaries for parliamentary constituencies in the North West, held by the Boundary Commission for England, They have been holding hearings in Carlisle yesterday and today, which are open to the public. I went ahead to have my say.

The Boundary Commission is an impartial body set up to review constituency boundaries on a regular basis defined by law to ensure that they reflect where people now live. Since 2011 it has been part of their remit to ensure that within a defined limits constituencies have the same number of  electors so that the vote of a resident of, say Barrow, is the same proportion of the electorate as a voter in, say, Witney.

They have put forward new proposals for the North West which you can find and read at

If you have views on this you can make them known up to 5th December by responding to the consultation, which can be done using the above link.

I gave evidence in support of the Boundary Commissions proposals for Cumbria.

The geography of Cumbria, particularly the number of lakes and mountains, make it difficult to assemble five constituencies with a common interest and there are a limited number of ways you can do it.

The initial set of proposals the Boundary Commission first put forward in the last parliament were a classic example of this problem, including as they did a Copeland and Windermere seat where the two main areas had the highest mountain and deepest lake in England between them and the only direct route running over Hardknott pass, the alternative being a two-hour journey around the lakes and mountains.

It makes far more sense, as in the revised proposal which came out of public consultation last time, and in the BCE's present proposals for Cumbria, to put the main West Cumbrian centres of Whitehaven and Workington together: despite a degree of friendly (and sometimes no-so-friendly) rivalry between these towns there is a significant common interest.

The Commission is also proposing 

* A Carlisle constituency coterminous with Carlisle City Council, which is obviously sensible

* A Penrith and Solway constituency, similar to the one the late Willie Whitelaw used to represent.

There are some issues on exactly where the border should like between the new Whitehaven and Workington constituency and the Barrow constituency to the south.

The town of Ulverston, which is currently in the Barrow and Furness constituency should obviously stay together as a unit and it would be difficult to draw a sensible Barrow constituency of the right size which did not include it. To reach the minimum size the Barrow constituency also needs to take in some of South Copeland.

There is a "Furness Peninsulas" community based along the West Coast Road (e.g. the A595 & A590 between Barrow, Millom and Sellafield) with people from Barrow travelling to work at Sellafield and people from Millom travelling both south to Barrow to work at BAE and North to Sellafield to work there.
The current BCE proposals have a strong geographical border at Ravenglass - this would make a lot more sense than splitting Tavenglass and Bootle off from the "Millom Without" ward.
However, there is also a strong case for putting Seascale in with Barrow. This would put more of the South West Coast community into the same constituency and hopefully mean that there would be one MP with the ability and incentive to fight for a solution to the transport problems between Barrow and Sellafield, such as the de-trunking of the route and the need to look again at imaginative solutions such as the Duddon Bridge.

If you have views on this, Tell the Boundary Commission what they are.

UK Inflation rises to 1%

Figures released today by Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the Consumer Price Index for the 12 months to September has risen to one percentage point compared with 0.6% in the year to August.

This is still only half of the government's inflation target, and although it is the highest figure for nearly two years it is low by recent historical standards

Clothing saw its biggest price rise since 2010 and fuel, which was falling a year ago, was also more expensive. However, the ONS said there was "no explicit evidence" that the 18% drop in the pound since June 23rd was a significant factor in the higher prices seen thus far. It is probable that this will eventually feed through into higher prices for imported goods, but that does not appear to have  happened yet.

The CBI, representing business, saying: "It's still too soon for sterling's recent depreciation to affect today's inflation figures, however we do expect it to push up prices through the course of next year, which will hit the pound in people's pockets."

Maternity and paternity pay, as well as some disability benefits, are set to rise, though, as they are some of the benefits linked to the September inflation figure.

The basic state pension is also likely to be raised by 2.5% from next April, taking it over £122 a week.

Since 2010, the government's "triple-lock" policy has meant state pensions rise by the inflation rate, average earnings or 2.5% - whichever is highest.

CPI inflation measures the price of a "shopping basket" of more than 700 items, from the cost of women's leggings to a multipack of fizzy drinks.The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which includes mortgage interest payments, rose to 2.0% in September from 1.8% in August.

Wolfe quits "ungovernable" UKIP

Stephen Wolfe MEP, who at various stages was considered favourite in both this year's UKIP leadership elections, has resigned from the party, saying that it is "ungovernable" and comparing the party's trajectory to a "death spiral."

He write in an article for The Telegraph, that the party “lacks direction, it lacks a purpose and it lacks any semblance of professional organisation”.

Quote of the day 18th October 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Brexit - time to move on

After a Brexit debate of depressingly poor quality on both sides we now have a post-Brexit debate of depressingly poor quality on both sides.

Where the national debate needs to centre now is what sort of relationship with the EU we want when we leave.

Some people are indeed doing that, though rather too often in unhelpful terms like "hard Brexit or soft Brexit."

I say this because the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, has said that soft Brexit is not available and he may be right. The real question is whether, regardless of how nasty some of our former partners try to be - and that's not under our control - we build a global-facing open Britain, open to people, ideas and goods from both the EU and the rest of the world, or retreat into isolationism.

Other people, however, are still refighting the EU referendum campaign.

It is far, far too early to judge whether either side has been proved right in the arguments they used. Of course, every sane person already knew that the "Leave" side were indulging in an unrealistic fantasy when they suggested that if Britain left the EU it would save £350 million a week which could be spent on the NHS instead. But the fact that that money has not been made available to the NHS yet does not prove them wrong -though they were - because we have not left yet.

One prophecy which has been proved right is that the pound would drop sharply if there was a Brexit vote - what we don't know is to what extent a correction would have happened anyway and to what extent the pound will recover after we actually do leave if the UK economy then remains strong.

One prediction which has been proved wrong was the idea that there would be a second and much tougher budget if we left the EU. It was always far more likely that whoever was chancellor after June 2rth would respond to the expected post-Brexit shocks as Philip Hammond actually has, by postponing the date at which Britain would eliminate the public sector deficit.

But for the vast majority of arguments deployed on both sides it is far too early to say whether they were right or wrong given that Britain has not even formally begun the process of leaving the EU.

Quote of the day 17th October 2016

"The Universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world, or a relationship, everything has its time. And everything ends."

(The late Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, from the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion")

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Boris articles

I read with great amusement Boris's "pro-remain" draft which was described today in the Sunday Times, and had some fun noting the contrasts with things he has said since.

But although there are plenty of valid reason to criticise Boris Johnson for things he said and did during the EU referendum campaign, the fact that he wrote draft newspaper articles for each side of the argument really isn't one of them.

If you are trying to decide which of two courses of action is the best one, I can think of far worse ways to try to make up your mind, than to sit down and write an article putting the argument for each course of action and then decide which one you think makes the strongest case.

And that is equally true if you are trying to pick the best course of action for your country, not just for yourself.

Now of course, I thought his arguments for Remain for stronger than his arguments for Leave, even though I also thought they could be stronger still - but that is exactly what you would expect me to think and does not prove in any way that Boris didn't believe the Leave arguments were stronger.

The only really silly thing Boris Johnson did in preparing both pro-Remain and pro-Leave newspaper articles while he was trying to decide which way to go, was that after opting for Leave he allowed the situation to arise in which The Sunday Times' political editor Tim Shipman could get hold of his pro-Remain article and publish it!

Second Sunday music spot: Overture (Arrival of the Queen of Sheba) from Handel's "Solomon"

DA'ESH loses control of Dabiq

Reports from Syria suggest that DA'ESH (the so called "Islamic State" caliphate) has withdrawn it's forces from the town of Dabiq shortly before it would have fallen to a Turkish-backed rebel faction in Syria, which has now liberated the town.

Because of an old prophecy based on a line in the writings of the Prophet Mohammed, to the effect that Dabiq would be the scene of a final battle between Muslim and non-Muslim in the last days of the world, DA'ESH regarded their possession of this town as very important and gave their online magazine the same name.

Realising that they could not hold Dabiq, DA'ESH recently renamed their magazine.

The fact that they were unable to spare the resources to hold Dabiq is an extremely encouraging indication that DA'ESH is losing the war. There is a long way to go before this death cult is deprived of all the territory they hold - and longer still before the ideology of extremism and murder is erased from men's hearts. But such is the nature of DA'ESH that it has to hold territory to sustain its claim to be a caliphate. The day when all of that territory is liberated from their control is getting closer.

Whitehaven's road works hell continues

Due to road works on the A5094 at Flatt Walks opposite MacDonalds, driving into the centre of Whitehaven on that route, or getting in or out of the Flatt Walks shopping centre by car, is absolute murder for large parts of the day at the moment, including at weekends, as the A5094 is blocked by queuing traffic, backing up in both directions.

On Lowther Street traffic often backs up as far as the Library, while in the other direction Northbound traffic is often backed up as far as the Flatt Walks/Back Corkickle/Coach Road junction which can stop that junction working properly and create serious gridlock in that section of town. At rush hour the A5094 sometimes backs up as far as the junction with the A595 Loop road.

There is some knock-on effect on other routes into Whitehaven such as New Road. Depending on where in the town you are trying to get to, routes which completely avoid the A5094, particularly at Flatt Walks, seem to be less badly affected at the at the moment.

Ironically the Sunday Times front page this morning has a piece on how travelling by car in many areas is not slower than travelling by horse and carriage used to be. The authors of the article blame this on congestion, parked or stationary delivery vehicles, cycle lanes and "badly designed road works."

It gave me some ironic amusement to read this on the cover when I bought a copy at Morrisons earlier today, knowing that I was facing a long wait to get out of the car park. Had I not had rather too much shopping to carry to make this practical, it would have been quicker to visit the shop on foot (which is what I did yesterday.)

Looks like residents of Whitehaven and a number of other parts of Cumbria will have to put up with delays caused by roadworks for a while.

Sunday music spot: The Windmills of Your Mind

Written for the original version of "The Thomas Crown Affair" and first performed by Noel Harrison in that film, this has always been one of my favourite modern songs, and has been performed by too many artists to list: I really like this King's Singers version with some very clever matching graphics.

Quote of the day 16th October 2016

"Politics is not a 'normal' job.

It is a competition for power pursued by people who are often powerless; a race for voters' affections by people who are invariably held in contempt by them; a clash of high ideals steeped in petty rivalries; a vocation devoted to shaping the future, conducted in an out-of-date setting; a game of teamwork populated by fragile egos and loners; a profession that requires calm, considered judgement, composed of individuals who are strung out and exhausted; a trade that relies on the semblance of normality, conducted according to the most peculiar traditions in the land."

(Nick Clegg, in his book "Politics: between the extremes")

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trump and the Republicans today, Corbyn and Labour tomorrow?

Sam Dale has a good article on Labour Uncut,

"Sure, let's laugh at the Republican implosion, but Labour's next"

which draws some strong parallels between the probably impending electoral disaster for the Republicans thanks to Donald Trump and the chances of something similar happening to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

And he might well be right.

Trouble is, you can never take the electorate, here or on the other side of the pond, for granted.

People thought that Trump had no chance of staying ahead in the republican race once it was down to two or three contenders, that the GOP would always nominate a moderate "grown up" candidate as it usually does.  But he got the nomination. And having proved most people wrong by doing that, he stayed in the race, and not far behind, after errors which would have forced most candidates to withdraw.

I still don't think Trump is likely to win, even against a candidate as unpopular as Hillary Clinton. But neither do I think Clinton is certain to win. If you look at the ratings, her approval ratings are not that much better than his and unless she gets a double digit lead by polling day, this may be yet another election or vote in which "don't take for granted that the polls are right" applies.

And similarly, I don't believe the Conservatives can take for granted that Jeremy Corbyn will cost Labour the next election.

I do think that an increased Conservative majority is the most likely outcome of the next election and that Corbyn may increase the size of that majority but there are no certainties in this game and people who think they have an election in the bag can blow it, especially if they get over-confident.

The Brexit negotiations may go badly, even if it all works out well in the long term there could be a difficult few years, we may suffer another world recession, and the threat against which Harold MacMillan warned - "Events, dear boy, events!" could also materialise. So complacency on the Conservative side would be a really bad idea.

Robert Courts for Witney

Robert Courts, a local councillor, shown here campaigning with DC and the PM, is the Conservative candidate to succeed David Cameron as MP for Witney in the by-election on Thursday.

Saturday music spot: Gilbert and Sullivan "For he is an Englishman"

It's a nice piece of music, but what this particular piece from "HMS Pinafore" celebrates for me, as much of Gilbert and Sullivan's output does, is that one of the particularly British strengths is the ability to laugh at ourselves. (Even when the Aussies are the ones singing it!)

You wonder what the Australian performers who were singing this thought about it: but I'm sure they appreciated that "For he is a Pommie B******" would not scan or rhyme properly ...)

Quote of the day 15th October 2016

I've used this quote before but it seems particularly apt in the confusing world of 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Has the Great barrier Reef died?

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world, has been badly affected by increases in ocean temperature and acidification of the oceans brought about by increased carbon in the atmosphere.

In May, researchers found that more than a third of the coral in northern and central parts of the reefs was dead, and 93 per cent of individual reefs had been affected by a condition known as coral bleaching, in which higher water temperature causes the algae who live in a symbiotic relationship with the coral to release too much oxygen. Although we depend on this element, it a very reactive substance - one of the most powerful "reducing agents" known - and is poisonous to coral in excessive quantities. There is a good description of how bleaching works here.

Food and travel writer  has written an Obituary for the Great Barrier Reef which may, however, be at least someone premature.

Certainly there is agreement among scientists that the reef is in serious trouble.

Professor Tim Flannery, who visited the reef in September, told ABC of the reef that

"If it was a person, it would be on life support."

But the majority of scientists have stressed that while the Great Barrier Reef, like most coral structures around the world, is under severe stress, it hasn’t quite snuffed it yet.

“This is a fatalistic, doomsday approach to climate change that isn’t going to engage anyone and misinforms the public,” said Kim Cobb, a coral reef expert at Georgia Tech, to the Guardian.

“There will be reefs in 2050, including portions of the Great Barrier Reef, I’m pretty confident of that. I’m put off by pieces that say we are doomed.”

There is a lot of controversy about exactly how serious the threat to the reef is, and various scientific and other interests have strong opinions about it, as you can read here.

I think it is important to continue the debate in the hope of getting at the truth - not everything that every environmentalist says is right.

Equally the idea that we can burn as many carbon compounds as we like and dump ever-increasing amounts of energy and carbon into the environment without ever experiencing any consequences is beyond ludicrous and many of those who deny every suggestion that humans may have influenced our climate appear to be living in a fantasy world.

The evidence continues to mount that climate change is happening, that at least some of it is influenced or affected by human actions, and that we need to be very careful about the impact we are having on our environment.

The Conservative Party chairman writes ...

Patrick McLoughlin, Chairman of the Conservative party, writes to party members as follows:

Trust me - this fight matters
"A few days ago you should have received a letter from the Prime Minister, outlining her vision of a country that works for everyone.

We are incredibly grateful for your support and I hope that you are behind us in the months and years ahead.

In Cabinet each of us are playing our part in building a better Britain. Philip Hammond is getting on with the job of building an economy that works for everyone. Michael Fallon and Amber Rudd are continuing the vital work of keeping our nation safe, at home and abroad. And Jeremy Hunt is working hard to deliver a National Health Service that is available to patients whenever and wherever they need it.
And unlike Labour, Conservative MPs and party members are out there backing our leader all the way.

But I won’t make the mistake of underestimating our opponents, and I know that you won’t either.

Because the risks that the hard left poses to our economy and our society, quite frankly, doesn’t bear thinking about. That’s why as Party Chairman I'm determined that we are ready to fight every election in 2017, whether it’s county councils in England, local authorities in Wales or mayoral elections in our cities.
But if we are to defeat Labour and the might of the unions, and to go on standing up for ordinary working people in Britain, I need your help.

By giving just £1 for every cabinet minister, you can make a real and lasting difference to our campaign in the country. More leaflets, better communication with voters and better organisation.

Thank you for your support and I hope that you will give generously to our campaign fund.


Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Chairman of the Conservative Party


Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Hastings 950 years on.

I will be celebrating today the fact that we pass the milestone of 950 years since the Battle of Hastings, but I certainly will not be celebrating the results of that battle.

As far as I'm concerned the wrong side won the Battle of Hastings, and those of his contemporaries who referred to the victor as William the Bastard were correct in more than just the strict legal sense. William was a perfect illustration of the remark supposedly made to Alexander of Macedon by a captured pirate that he who seizes property on the sea with one ship is called a robber while he who tries to steal the whole world with a great fleet is called Emperor.

The Harrying Of The North was a particularly indefensible crime and there are plenty of other reasons to regard William as a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

Of course, I am probably arguing against my own existence by saying that the wrong side won Hastings, since the vast majority of those of us of mostly British descent probably have genes from William himself and certainly from some of his troops.

Ironically in my own case I do know that I am related to a family which provided some of William's closest allies and supporters but the relationship is not through direct descent, but through the one part of my ancestry in the past 200 years which is non-British. One of my great-great-great grandfathers came from an old Norman family, and he emigrated from Normandy to Britain in a peaceful manner some seven hundred years after another branch of the same family did so in a rather more hostile way in 1066.

However, although I am not celebrating the result of Hastings, there IS something to celebrate today, because the Norman invasion was the last successful invasion we have suffered.

And we should celebrate today the 950 years during which Britain has never been successfully invaded by an outside power.

I should, perhaps, explain that I do not count the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 as an external invasion. Although William of Orange was ruler of the Netherlands, he was also married to a princess of Britain's ruling Stuart royal house - the sister of the tyrant he overthrew - and William and Mary had so much support in parliament and the country as they were moving on London the former King dropped the great seal into the Thames and fled abroad, enabling a transfer of power which involved no bloodshed.

And let's hope that during the next thousand years and thereafter Britain is equally successful at repelling any other hostile invasion.

Quote of the day 14th October 2016

David Dimbleby:
"Did you vote Leave to take your neighbour's job away?"

BBCQT Audience member
"No, I did it to take Emily Thornberry's job away."

(from last night's BBC Question time programme, which I was unable to watch live because BBC iPlayer kept interposing pop-up menus in Welsh asking if I have paid my TV licence fee. I have, but did not know how to give this response because I don't read Welsh.

As readers who have seen my post last night may have deduced, as I live several hundred miles' drive from Wales this was rather annoying!)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Calling the BBC - I pay for a TV licence, I live in England, and I don't read Welsh !

So why on earth is it, when I try to watch BBC iPlayer on a computer, I keep getting a pop-up menu in Welsh which blocks whatever I am trying to watch,  which I think is warning me that I need a TV license to watch BBC services.

Because the menu is in Welsh, a beautiful language which I cannot read which is spoken in  a beautiful part of our United Kingdom which is hundreds of miles by road or train from where I live,  it is extremely difficult to know how to get past this ridiculous and unnecessary notice, confirm that I have paid for a license, and get through to watch the services I have paid for.

Well you incompetent BBC bureaucratic idiots, I already pay a fortune for a TV licence to make my contribution to your grossly inflated and entirely undeserved salaries. Sort your systems out and stop this ridiculous harassment of your paying customers!

Have the EU's Auditors signed off the accounts or not?

Today the EU Commission issued a statement saying that the European Court of Auditors have signed off the EU's Accounts for 2015.

On the basis of the same report by the Auditors, Guido Fawkes website alleges that the EU's accounts have not been signed off for the 22nd year in a row.

Surely it must be a relatively simple matter to say which of them is right and which of them is wrong?
Afraid not.
The statement from the Commission is true but to some extent misleading: the form of words used by Guido Fawkes is wrong but insofar as he is writing that the EU Auditors have raised issues with the spending of EU money for many years and did so again in 2015, that IS true, and they did find that EU expenditure in 2015 was, quote, "materially affected by error."
A "Remainer" who tells you that the European Court of Auditors have given the EU's finances a clean bill of health and a "Leave" supporter who tells you that the accounts have not been signed off for 22 years are both wrong. The truth lies between these two positions.
It is unequivocally true that the European Union's Auditors refused to sign off the EU accounts for many years up to and including 2006. This was one of the reasons for the sacking of the Santer Commission. The Court of Auditors which is responsible for the audit of the EU's finances has made very similar criticisms on the spending of money contrary to EU rules for many years,  
However, in their report on the accounts of the European Union for 2014 and indeed all years between 2007 and 2014, the European Court of Auditors signed off the accounts as having been accurately prepared in accordance with international accounting standards.

The Auditors' website specifically says that, quote  "the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union as they have done for every year since 2007."

(The above is a quote from the EU auditors' own website and can be found here.)

So what have the Auditors now said about 2015?

The first of four key paragraph in their report on the EU's 2015 accounts reads as follows:

"Opinion on the reliability of the accounts

VIII. In our opinion, the consolidated accounts of the European Union for the year ended 31 December 2015 present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Union as at 31 December 2015, the results of its operations, its cash flows, and the changes in net assets for the year then ended, in accordance with the Financial Regulation and with accounting rules based on internationally accepted accounting standards for the public sector."

It is on that basis that the EU Commission say that the Auditors have signed off the accounts as an accurate record in accordance with international Accounting standards and this is a reasonable position to take, but - wait for it - that is not the whole story.

The Auditors also signed off the EU's income, saying

"Opinion on the legality and regularity of revenue underlying the accounts

IX. In our opinion, revenue underlying the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2015 is legal and regular in all material respects."

So is Guido talking complete rubbish, then?

Actually, no.

The auditors also have this to say about the EU's expenditure:

"Basis for adverse opinion on the legality and regularity of payments underlying the accounts

X. Expenditure recorded in 2015 under the multi-annual financial framework headings covering operational spending is materially affected by error. Our estimated level of error for payments underlying the accounts is 3.8 %. Our overall conclusion is driven by the higher estimated level of error for spending on a reimbursement basis and is corroborated by the Commission’s analysis of amounts at risk presented in the annual management and performance report for the EU budget."


"Adverse opinion on the legality and regularity of payments underlying the accounts

XI. In our opinion, because of the significance of the matters described in the basis for adverse opinion on the legality and regularity of payments underlying the accounts paragraph, the payments underlying the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2015 are materially affected by error."

Is that all perfectly clear now?

I thought not.

OK, let me try to summarise. The European Court of Auditors have made over many years and continue to make significant criticisms of the way EU investment and spending is managed, and they say that the "error rate" of spending which is not in accordance with EU rules is too high. And we are talking billions of Euros not properly spent here.

One defence which is sometimes used by supporters of the EU is that much of the mis-spending of EU money criticised by the auditors is actually down to individual governments.

This statement contains some truth but does not get the Commission off the hook. The Auditors did indeed say last year that "Some Member States are struggling to absorb the EU funds they have been allocated." but added that this was partly because "The Commission has put funds at the disposal of Member States, without sufficiently considering their capacity to invest them."

Let's put all these comments in their proper context.

The European Court of Auditors called last year for  ... 

"a wholly new approach to the management of EU investment and spending. Major changes are required by all those responsible for the way EU funds are managed. According to the ECA’s presentation of the report to the European Parliament, EU decision-makers must align the budget better with the EU’s long-term strategic priorities and make it more responsive in a crisis. EU legislators need to ensure spending schemes are clear about the results to be achieved and the risks it is acceptable to take; and financial managers have to ensure that the money spent complies with the rules and achieves the intended results.
ECA President Vítor Caldeira said, “The EU must invest its money better. It must ensure its investments match its priorities more closely, simpler rules are framed to achieve results and resources are managed more efficiently.”
It is clear from the report on 2015's accounts which has just come out that the auditors regard this problem as far from being solved, and although the error rate for expenditure is on a slow downward trend (3.8% in 2015 compared with  4.4% in 2014 and 4.5% in 2013) it is still too high.

Incidentally, the error rate does not directly measure fraud, inefficiency or waste; it is an estimate of the money that should not have been paid out because it was not used fully in accordance with EU rules.

But we are still talking billions of Euros of European taxpayers' money not spent properly and that is simply not good enough.