Monday, September 26, 2016

If you care about healthcare in Cumbira, take part in this consultation

Reading the "Success Regime" proposals for Cumbria's hospitals,

"The Future of Healthcare in West North and East Cumbria."

Enormously important that people take an interest in this consultation.

Details at www.wnecumbria.nhs.uk

"Success Regime" proposals for healthcare in Cumbria

I cannot yet find the consultation document on the Success Regime website, but according to the News and Star they are proposing options as follows:

The preferred option would see A&E retained in Carlisle and Whitehaven, but the West Cumberland's intensive care unit would be smaller, with more patients transferred to the city's Cumberland Infirmary.

Another option is to completely remove A&E from the West Cumberland.
The plans will also see stroke patients from west Cumbria being taken by ambulance to a new specialist unit in Carlisle.

The Success Regime unveiled its detailed proposals at a launch event in Carlisle this morning, kick-starting a 12-week formal consultation which will run until just before Christmas.

Plans will then be finalised, with an announcement expected early in the new year.

The 56-page public consultation document includes at least two options for each service it wants to overhaul - maternity (including special care baby units), children's services, community hospitals, emergency care and stroke services. The Success Regime then states which option it recommends.

In summary, the options are:


MATERNITY
1. Retaining consultant-led units in both Carlisle and Whitehaven, alongside midwife-led units. Special care baby unit would remain on both sites but some higher risk births would still go to Carlisle due to reduced paediatric expertise in west (as a result of proposed changes to children's services in Whitehaven)
2. Midwife-led unit only in the west with consultants on site 8am to 8pm. However these consultants would only provide antenatal and postnatal care, not help women actually in labour. All higher risk births would therefore have to take place in Carlisle. There is also a possibility of planned, lower risk caesareans taking place in the west in future. Plan also includes dedicated maternity ambulance
3. No births at all at West Cumberland Hospital, just antenatal and postnatal care. All women would have to travel to Carlisle to give birth.

PREFERRED: OPTION 2

Penrith birthing unit not affected by any of the options


CHILDREN'S SERVICES
1. Short stay paediatric ward at West Cumberland Hospital with some overnight stays for monitoring. All other children would go to Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle
2. Short stay paediatric ward at West Cumberland Hospital but with no overnight beds. Dedicated in-patient unit created in Carlisle to serve whole of north and west Cumbria
3. Outpatient services only in west. No beds

PREFERRED: OPTION 1


COMMUNITY HOSPITALS

(No option to retain all beds at all hospitals. All options are for 104 beds, which is less than now, and all propose closing beds at Alston, Wigton and Maryport, plus some others. Penrith would lose 4 beds in all scenarios)
1. Beds in Alston, Wigton, Maryport would close, with 104 beds consolidated across the remaining sites
2. Beds at Alston, Wigton, Maryport and Workington would close, with 104 beds consolidated across the remaining sites
3. Beds at Alston, Wigton, Maryport and Cockermouth would close, with 104 beds consolidated across the remaining sites
4. All community hospital beds would close, except in Penrith and Whitehaven's Copeland Unit (part of West Cumberland Hospital). Instead a new community hospital unit would be built in Carlisle. This would mean Brampton and Keswick also losing beds

PREFERRED: OPTION 1
In all scenarios, beds in Penrith would drop from 28 to 24. In options 1,2 and 3, Keswick and Penrith would gain extra beds


EMERGENCY CARE
1. 24/7 A&E would be retained in both Carlisle and Whitehaven but West Cumberland Hospital's intensive care unit would be smaller, with more patients transferred to Carlisle
2. Daytime only A&E service at West Cumberland Hospital, supported by a 24/7 urgent care centre. More transfers to Carlisle and no overnight care for seriously ill
3. No A&E unit at the West Cumberland Hostpital, just urgent care services. Major increase in transfers to Carlisle

PREFERRED: OPTION 1


STROKE
1. Existing service would be largely retained, with stroke patients taken to West Cumberland Hospital or Cumberland Infirmary
2. All stroke cases would be dealt with at a new specialist hyper-acute stroke unit in Carlisle. Only rehabilitation would be provided in the west

PREFERRED: OPTION 2


TRAUMA AND ORTHOPAEDICS
The majority of trauma cases are already dealt with at Cumberland Infirmary after being moved from West Cumberland Hospital without public consultation on safety grounds. Bosses now want to make this arrangement permanent, with some more minor procedures returning to Whitehaven.

NHS CONSULTATION IN CUMBRIA STARTS TODAY


A twelve week consultation period starts today on healthcare in Cumbria, beginning with a launch event in Carlisle this morning and publication of a consultation document expected at 12 noon today.

This will affect both District General Hospitals and community hospitals and is likely to include significant changes to maternity care which will be of great interest and concern to many residents of the county.

Key stakeholders, such as local MPs, councils, community groups and health trust governors, will also be briefed just before the plans go public.

The proposals are likely to include more than one option within each proposal, with the "Success Regime" making clear which it sees as the preferred scenario. This will form the basis for the consultation, which will include more public meetings in communities across the area.

It is a year since the Success Regime moved in to set out its intentions - to tackle deep-rooted problems in the local NHS, including huge debts and recruitment problems.

It came after North Cumbria was deemed one of three areas of England with the most challenged health economies by the Government.

Developments as they unfold today will be reported at www.news-and-star.co.uk

Consultation details will also appear on the website of the NHS "Success Regime" in Cumbria, which will be an essential destination for those who want to keep consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland hospital, and can be found at

http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/

The feedback page on the site is already open and people who have concerns they want to share with the Success regime can do so at

 http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/have-your-say

Quote of the day 26th September 2016


Sunday, September 25, 2016

As Labour conference begins, the problem for Corbyn

Last year it was Conservative conference where you felt you needed protection from people shouting "Tory scum" and worse, spitting and throwing eggs at everyone on their way in - including journalists, cleaners, catering staff and porters as well as Conservatives.

This year it seems the people responsible for causing mayhem outside our conference may be causing some at their own: apparently at least one Labour MP is taking a bodyguard to the conference.

Two people, one Scottish Nationalist and one Corbynista, have expressed the view to me that because they have more support among younger people their respective causes are bound to eventually win. The first problem with this view is that people's perspective changes as they get older - I will resist the temptation to endorse the patronising way of putting that, "as they grow up."

The second problem is that this view overstates Corbyn's support even among young voters. Thanks to Mike Smithson for this data of where he stands in each age bracket compared with the PM:





































His support may be least weak among younger voters, but he isn't actually winning even with them. Let alone with the voters in the age groups who are most likely to actually vote.

And as Iain Martin points out here, the policies Corbyn has been unveiling on the Marr show today and elsewhere read like a Tory election strategists' fantasy of what the sort of Labour party they would like to be up against.

Some Corbyn supporters imagine that Conservatives are afraid of their man. In most cases this is not true and they are bouncing up and down with delight because he has been re-elected Labour leader.

And in the case of the minority of Conservatives like myself who are not pleased about Corbyn's re-election it is not because we are afraid of him. The only fear he inspires is that the totally useless opposition he will lead will fail to keep our own party on our toes, might make our party arrogant or complacent and thereby be bad for the country.

Sunday music spot: Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, Andante ("Elvira Madigan")

I wrote a piece about Mozart's wonderful Piano Concerto no 21 and why it is named "Elvira Madigan" after an almost forgotten film this afternoon, and the post for some reason did not appear.

Never mind, here it is the piece again.


ONE DAY TO GO

Remember, consultation on Healthcare in Cumbria starts on Monday
The next and critically important consultation on healthcare in Cumbria begins tomorrow, on Monday 26th September.

This will affect both District General Hospitals and community hospitals and is likely to include significant changes to maternity care which will be of great interest and concern to many residents of the county.

The details will appear on the website of the NHS "Success Regime" in Cumbria, which will be an essential destination for those who want to keep consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland hospital, and can be found at

http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/

The consultation document is expected to appear on that website on Monday.

The feedback page on the site is already open and people who have concerns they want to share with the Success regime can do so at

 http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/have-your-say

Quote of the day 25th September 2016


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday music spot: Handel's "Dixit Dominus" conducted by John Eliot Gardiner


How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership

Most of Jeremy Corbyn's majority came from people who have not been in the Labour party for all that long:

Thanks to Mike Smithson for sharing this YouGov result

(And yes, I know that after GE2015 and the EU referendum we have all learned to treat poll results with caution, but this one did get the overall result right, which suggests that it may bear some resemblance to reality, and properly conducted polls are still more accurate than relying on a sample of a few of your mates down at the pub.)

Corbyn re-elected Labour leader: Labour prepares for an interesting conference ...


Quotes of the day 24th September 2016

"Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice"

(Brilliant dismissal of the Corbyn project in two sentences by Nick Cohen, from a Spectator article called "This could be the end of the Labour party.")



I wrote last night that the Conservatives cannot rely on Corbyn's incompetence to keep us in power.

That is because NO party can take support for granted or assume because one set of opponents are utterly useless that they can get away with whatever they like.

For the same reason, Labour cannot assume that they are guaranteed to retain their current position as one of the two main players in British politics. There is a limit to the extent which an ultimately pragmatic people (as the British electorate usually is) will continue to elect even enough MPs to form Her Majesty's loyal opposition from a party which cannot credibly pretend to provide an alternative government because they are not serious about proposing workable solutions involving the kind of realistic compromises necessary to run a country.

It is extremely hard to knock one of the main parties in British politics out of the ring - it has only happened once in the last century, and even Mrs Thatcher's  shattering defeats of Labour or Blair's even more shattering defeats of the Conservatives failed to do it.

But it is not impossible to a party to be knocked out of contention for power. I think it would have happened to the Conservatives in 2005 had they not sacked IDS - and I think it might happen to Labour if they stick with the Corbyn project for much longer.

I will watch today's announcement of the results of the Labour leadership election with interest - but also with concern for the country.

As Disraeli said






















And, frankly, I don't see either of the candidates for Labour leader providing a formidable opposition.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A message to anyone in any party who thinks the next election is in the bag ...

It isn't.

And the voters in local by-elections proved the point yesterday.

However much Jeremy Corbyn appears to be doing his best to make it as hard as possible for Labour to win an election the electorate should never be taken for granted and nobody should ever assume that their opponent's incompetence will allow them to waltz into a parliamentary or council seat without doing the work of trying to communicate with voters both to listen to their concerns and to make sure that you are offering something they want and tell them about it.

It is often said that "All politics is local" and it is a mistake to extrapolate too many national inferences from a handful of local by-elections.

It's also a mistake to ignore them.

In general the Conservatives have done reasonably in local by-elections since GE2015, the Lib/Dems very well, and UKIP and Labour mostly badly.

Yesterday, however, was a particularly excellent night for the Lib/Dems, a rare good one for Labour, and a disappointing night for the Conservatives.

I was particularly disappointed that our excellent candidate Simon Nicholson was not successful in Christchurch ward Cockermouth.

There's no point being mean spirited about this, congratulations to the newly elected Labour councillor Joan Ellis who increased her share of the vote to 40% and gained the seat, and to the Lib Dem candidate who dramatically increased her share of the vote and gained a parish council seat in the same area on the same day.

What appears to have happened is that the Labour vote increased by 5.8% but the main reason the Conservatives lost it to Labour is that nearly half our vote went Lib/Dem.

Conservatives are reviewing our organisation within the county in order to up our game and we will need to look at this result and see what we can learn from it.

Lib/Dems like Mark Pack are understandably delighted with their results yesterday and in their place I would be pleased.

However, these were local results driven by local factors and on a much lower turnout than you get at a general election - the Cockermouth turnout was 36%, for instance.

The good results for the Lib/Dems in council by-elections are an indication of an opportunity to reconnect with the electorate, not a guarantee of a Lib/Dem renaissance. Conservative, Labour and Lib/Dem activists of long standing and good memories can all tell you of occasions when our parties did very well indeed in council elections and still got absolutely flattened not long after at the following General Election.

What we as Conservatives need to take away from this is that we cannot afford to get complacent or forget that no candidate or party has a divine right to get elected. Labour incompetence even on the massive scale exhibited by Jeremy Corbyn does not give us an absolute guarantee of re-election.

Report highlights need for A595 and A590 improvements

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership has published a detailed strategic study highlighting improvements needed to Cumbria's roads and documenting ways to eliminate certain black spots.

I was very pleased to see that the report singles out the A595/A590 route from Whitehaven to Barrow as particularly needing attention.

The West of M6 Strategic Connectivity Study highlights a list of prioritised projects across the A590 and A595 to improve transport links and help Cumbria make the most of a new age of economic prosperity.

Graham Haywood, director of Cumbria LEP, believes now is the time to address these issues as the county prepares for £40bn of investment.

He told the North West Evening Mail that: "Clearly there's going to be an increase in road traffic movement and we need to be making a case for improvements to be able to accommodate for that.

"The developments at BAE, GSK and Siemens are all going to create additional traffic and we need to be ready for that. There are quite significant housing schemes in Ulverston that will also add to that.

"We have got to get the infrastructure ready to accommodate that rather than wait until it's all clogged up."

There is also, of course, the strong possibility of a new nuclear plant at Moorside near Sellafield and these improvements would be absolutely essential as part of a package to enable the transport network to cope if that development goes ahead.

The plan has been devised to help cut journey times across Cumbria and to enable people to get better access to key areas of development.]

Cumbria LEP has compiled a list of "interventions" or projects that have been identified as key areas needing improvement and has marked each one according to its strategic and economic impact, value for money and feasibility.

The top scoring projects were then listed as priorities, which will be handed over to Highways England and Cumbria County Council to assess for their next round of funding in 2019. From then, it could take a further three to seven years to complete the most urgent projects, if a bid for funding is successful.

More details on the North West Evening Mail site at

http://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/barrow/Masterplan-revealed-to-transform-A590-and-A595-in-south-Cumbria-ed9dc0e6-a8ed-4478-922a-dd8cf697c0e8-ds.

Remember, consultation on Healthcare in Cumbria starts on Monday

Three days to go until the next and critically important consultation on healthcare in Cumbria begins, on Monday 26th September.

This will affect both District General Hospitals and community hospitals and is likely to include significant changes to maternity care which will be of great interest and concern to many residents of the county.

The details will appear on the website of the NHS "Success Regime" in Cumbria, which will be an essential destination for those who want to keep consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland hospital, and can be found at

http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/

The consultation document is expected to appear on that website on Monday.

The feedback page on the site is already open and people who have concerns they want to share with the Success regime can do so at

 http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/have-your-say

Quote of the day 23rd September 2016




Thursday, September 22, 2016

Oxford tops world University rankings

The University of Oxford has knocked the California Institute of Technology, which had been ranked as the highest performing University in the world for the previous five years, into second place.

This is the first time a British University has led the Times Higher Education Supplement list of world university rankings.

The Times Higher tables rank universities worldwide on measures including teaching, research and international outlook - for example, numbers of overseas students and staff.

No fewer than three British universities - Oxford (1st), Cambridge (4th), and Imperial College London (8th) - are in the top ten. One other place in the top ten was taken by a Swiss University, and the remaining institutions in the table were from the USA.

You can read a report on the rankings here.

Quote of the day 22nd September 2016


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Website for the Cumbria NHS "Success Regime"

The website for the NHS "Success Regime" in Cumbria, which will be an important part of the communications for the consultation which starts on Monday and hence an essential destination for those who want to keep consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland hospital, can be found at

http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/

The consultation document is expected to appear on that website on Monday (26th September)

This will not just be important for maternity but for a number of other services, as there will be proposals on such matters as the number of beds at community hospitals. There will be some proposals people may want to support (more beds and activity at Cockermouth hospital for instance) as well as those which cause concerns.

The feedback page on the site is already open and people who have concerns they want to share with the Success regime can do so at

 http://www.successregimecumbria.nhs.uk/have-your-say

Best Humorous posts

There have been some entertaining spoof posts this week,

On the basis of the rumours that the new PM is not exactly a fan of former Justice Secretary Michael Gove, the Daily Mash reports that

"Any policy Michael Gove had anything to do with is cancelled," adding that

"THERESA May has confirmed that Michael Gove’s prison reform, education policies and canteen pass have all been cancelled with extreme prejudice."

The Daily Mash also attribute to Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith the startling admission that

"Both candidates are useless but Corbyn is deranged as well."

Now you come to mention it ...

News Thump has several reports following the announcement that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are to divorce, such as the last rites for the institution of marriage and the suggestion that "Jenifer Aniston has been hospitalised after a dangerously prolonged laughing fit."

They also report that

plucky underdog Vladimir Putin unexpectedly wins Russian election

and the

entire Atlantic ocean is to be disinfected after Nigel Farage skinny dip."

IMPORTANT CONSULTATION ON CUMBRIA'S HOSPITALS BEGINS NEXT WEEK

The NHS Success Regime will be releasing a formal consultation document into healthcare in Cumbria next week. I am worried by the signals being sent about maternity.

Chairman Sir Neil McKay told a public meeting at Cockermouth Community Hospital on Tuesday:
 
“The future of maternity services at the West Cumberland Hospital has been discussed endlessly. We have real concerns about whether it's possible to maintain a consultant-led maternity service there.

“If our concerns are correct then we have to come up with other options. I would fail if I offered a service that was not sustainable.

“This is a complex set of issues, our thoughts are in the consultation document. The present position is a real worry and I understand how passionate people feel.”

That sounds like they are getting ready to abandon the fight for consultant-led maternity at WCH and although we must listen very seriously to what they say, I believe that this would be a huge mistake.

Don't forget that when independent national assessors visited Cumbria recently to look at the options for maternity care, they made a particular point of saying in their report that they had expected to recommend a centralised maternity unit for the county but when they saw for themselves what the position was really like in Cumbria - little matters like how long it takes to drive between places like Whitehaven and Carlisle or from Gosforth to Barrow - they changed their minds and recommended as Option One that consultant-led maternity care should be retained at all our major hospitals including WCH and FGH.


As with practically every NHS consultation I can ever remember (and I've been through an awful lot of them, from both sides of the table and in various parts of Britain hundreds of miles apart) the NHS is saying no decisions have been taken while campaigners are afraid that they already have. I'm not going to take sides on that point beyond pointing out the obvious:

If we don't like aspects of what is proposed and make a huge fuss about it there is a chance that the "success regime" and local NHS leaders will listen, but if we don't make a fuss you can be certain that they can't listen to what has not even been said.

More on my hospitals blog at

http://savewestcumbriahospitals.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/plans-for-future-of-maternity-and-other.html

Theresa May: The UK is not turning inwards

The UK did not "vote to turn inwards" when it backed Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May has told the United Nations.
 
At the UN General Assembly in New York, she said the UK would not "walk away from our partners in the world".

And she urged leaders to work together to tackle "the big security and human rights challenges of our time".

Mrs May warned that people felt left behind by the "increasing pace of globalisation".

In her first address to the general assembly, Mrs May said:

"We must never forget that we stand here, at this United Nations, as servants of the men and women that we represent back at home.

"And as we do so we must recognise that for too many of those men and women the increasing pace of globalisation has left them feeling left behind.

"The challenge for those of us in this room is to ensure that our governments and our global institutions, such as this United Nations, remain responsive to the people that we serve. That we are capable of adapting our institutions to the demands of the 21st Century."

Mrs May - who also addressed the UN summit on refugees on Monday - said the organisation was "uniquely placed" to tackle war, terrorism, climate change, human trafficking and mass migration.

"The biggest threats to our prosperity and security do not recognise or respect international borders," she said, adding: "And that if we only focus on what we do at home, the job is barely half done."

Quote of the day 21st September 2016


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ruth Davidson on how Scottish families - not Nicola Sturgeon - would pay the cost of Independence

Great article by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in today's Scottish Daily Mail.


Political suicide?

It's been my view since Theresa May became Prime Minister that an early general election is not likely for several reasons, the most important one being that I took her at her word when she said that it is not in the national interest to have one now and Britain needs some stability.

A second reason, to which most of the press have not paid enough attention, is that the PM no longer has the power to call a general election whenever she likes: the Fixed Term Parliament Act makes calling an early election much harder.

Under the FTPA to call an early election normally needs a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. In the present House of Commons this means that both the Conservatives and Labour have to want one, which until this week seemed impossible.

An election can be triggered if the government loses a vote of confidence and no new government can be formed: in theory therefore a government with a small majority and strict party discipline could propose and pass a vote of no confidence in itself but refuse to allow anyone else to form a new government. This has been done once or twice in other countries - Helmut Kohl did something of the kind in Germany about a quarter of a century ago - but it looks dreadful and would almost certainly be controversial (as it was when Kohl did it.)  To say the least it would be a high-risk strategy.

So I am convinced that there will be no general election in 2016 and until this week thought it unlikely the next election would be before 2020 since any circumstance in which the Conservatives wanted an early election would require Labour MPs to act like turkeys voting for an early Christmas to make it happen.

But the prospect of turkeys voting for an early Christmas has just increased slightly ....

According to BBC Newsnight, if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected as Labour leader, he says he will put the party on an election footing and instruct Labour MPs to support any motion calling an early election, possibly in Spring 2017.

Whether he would actually do so when the chips were down, and whether enough Labour MPs would obey the order, could be quite a different matter, of course!

Nevertheless this is what might be called a WTF moment.

As Toby Young put it on twitter, there are three possible reasons for Corbyn to support an early election:

1) He thinks Labour can win

2) He wants a smaller Parliamentary Labour party, or

3) "He's a bit dim."

Answers on a postcard ...

Quote of the day 20th September 2016

Margaret Thatcher quoting Denis Healey:
 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Congratulations to Britain's Paralympic team on a superb performance

Congratulations to everyone in Britain's Paralympic team on a superb performance.

Great Britain closed the Rio Paralympics with 64 gold medals, the most by a British team since 1988.
ParalympicsGB surpassed their London 2012 medal tally of 120 on day nine of the Games in Rio and finished with 147, second in the medal table behind China.

They also matched the highest number of gold medal sports at a Paralympics with 11, matching China at Beijing 2008.

That represents the most incredible effort and everyone involved should be very proud.

Groundbreaking new partnership for Millom GP practice

There is much that concerns me going on in the NHS at the moment but it is nice to be able to observe that there are positive things as well.

Millom is leading the way as a hospital consultant and health trust mangers become formal partners in a Millom GP practice as part of a pioneering scheme which is the first of it's kind in England.

The groundbreaking move will involve representatives from the area's hospital trust and county NHS group taking over the running of Waterloo House GP Practice in Millom.

It is hoped the link-up will allow doctors to spend more time with patients and reduce the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital.

Millom's Dr Richard Walker, a GP at Waterloo House surgery, explained there would be a raft of benefits for the town, including having the expertise of leaders from different organisations at their disposal.

"We are very pleased to have the two health trusts join the practice as partners," he said.

"It is well known that there is a shortage of GPs nationally and Millom is no exception.
 
"The new partnership means that GPs and primary care staff, including new clinical staff roles, can spend more time where it matters – with the patients - than having to manage the business side of the surgery."

The new partners include Dr Paul Grout, Furness General Hospital's accident and emergency consultant and trust deputy medical director, and Kate Maynard, deputy chief operating officer at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr John Howarth, deputy chief executive of the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, has now also become a partner, alongside CPFT colleague Dee Houghton, associate director of operations for South Cumbria Community Services.

GPs at Waterloo House practice will continue to provide overall clinical leadership for patients.
But the new partners will take over the business side of the surgery, including its finances and support services, such as IT, equipment and procurement.

Dr Grout said: "It's early days but the work we have been doing over the last few months is already showing promising signs, with a 23 per cent reduction in unplanned admissions to our acute hospitals.

"This new way of working has huge potential to be delivering more care locally in Millom and looking after the health needs of the population much more effectively."

Dr Howarth hopes the arrangement, which has the backing of Millom Alliance as well as Bay Health and Care Partners, will also speed up a project to replace the cramped surroundings at Waterloo House with a redesigned, fit for purpose layout and extension.

He said: "Our most immediate challenge is to secure upgraded premises as the existing facilities are extremely cramped and very challenging for both staff and patients.

"We will be working urgently with NHS England to access the funds they granted last year so we can deliver the planned extension that the community so desperately needs."

Source: NWEM at http://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/millom/Millom-leads-the-way-in-UK-first-for-healthcare-febbc094-d3be-4cc4-a06b-70cd69490fda-ds

Music spot: Two organ pieces by Jonathan Battishill


A Grim Fairytale from Momentum Kids

In a statement last night, the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum explained that:

"Momentum is to launch a nationwide initiative to increase the involvement of children, parents and carers in Momentum and the Labour Party. Momentum Kids, originally set up by two mothers in Stroud, will expand across Momentum's network of 150 local groups, ensuring that single parents and sole carers have access to cooperatively run breakfast clubs, after school sessions and child care they need to facilitate their political engagement."

Source here.

Adam Bienkov was probably right to suggest in his piece (linked to immediately above) that comparing Momentum Kids to the Hitler Youth, as one or two people have, is over the top and in bad taste.

However, a certain amount of mickey-taking is both legitimate and healthy ..



not to mention quite funny ...



And I particularly appreciate the spoof fairy story from which the "Midwich Cuckoos" graphic aboe is taken, by former Labour MP Tom Harris in the Telegraph:

"Welcome to Momentum Kids where you can live happily ever after in your own Corbynista dreamland."

Particular favourite line from the spoof story of a Corbynista rally where a little boy notices that the emperor has no prospect of victory:

"one little boy - a very naughty little boy - didn't understand what all the rejoicing was about. And he asked his mum,

"Why is everyone so happy when Theresa May is miles ahead in the polls and we're going to get slaughtered at the next election?"

And his mum was upset, so they set up Momentum Kids to re-educate such children.

"And they all lived happily ever after in the wonderful equal society that Jeremy created for them in his mind."

The £350 Million and Leave campaigners' pyrrhic victory

In the Sunday Times yesterday Ameet Gill and Paul Stephenson made a point on how the Leave campaign deployed their £350 million claim during the EU referendum campaign which is quite similar to my previous post here arguing that Vote Leave had produced and successfully used a new version of the dead cat strategy.

The "Dead Cat" strategy, much associated with the Australian campaigner Sir Lynton Crosby, is a means of changing the debate agenda during a campaign. If the media are focussing on an issue which is deemed to be helpful to the other side you distract them by getting someone on your side to say something extremely controversial, if not downright outrageous.

As Boris Johnson wrote in 2013,

"Let us suppose you are losing an argument."

"The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

"Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as 'throwing a dead cat on the table, mate'."

Going on to describe the tactic, he wrote

"The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout 'Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!'; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief."

Vote Leave came up with a new version of this tactic for the EU referendum, which we might call "The false £350 million gambit."

How it works is this -

1) you start by taking a true argument for your side which you want to get more attention - the tactic only works if the underlying argument is pushing an important truth on an aspect of the situation favourable to your side - and then

2) you present it in a deliberately extreme form which is not true, and which is so provocative to your opponents they will be certain to challenge it

3) you use ruthless message discipline to promote the false form of your argument where everyone will see it.

What will follow is that

a) your outraged - or unwisely delighted - opponents will be unable to resist firing both barrels at what they will see as a lie or a gaffe,

b) the media, who love a good row, will turn their attention onto this subject, thereby turning the media spotlight away from whatever you wanted to distract them from, and

c) in seeking to be impartial, the media in general and the BBC in particular will report both sides of the row, and if they make any attempt to analyse the situation they will probably point out that the exact form of words you used is wrong, but -

they will also point out the accuracy of the true form of the argument which you wanted all along to get  out there.

In the case of the EU referendum, the true and false forms of the argument were:

TRUE - Britain is a large net contributor to the EU budget, paying about £161 million a week

FALSE - “The EU now costs the UK over £350 million every week – nearly £20 billion a year"

(and even more false was the suggestion that Brexit would enable this sum of money to be spent on the NHS.)

I learned yesterday from Ameet Gill and Paul Stephenson that there were cheers in the Leave campaign's HQ every time the Remain side attacked the overstated £350 million figure because it was moving the argument onto their territory.

Note that although the extreme form of the argument has to be provocative to your opponents, you don't want it to be so ridiculous that it annoys floating voters.

For example, although David Cameron never said that voting Leave could trigger World War Three, when many newspapers reported his speeches making far more reasonable arguments that the EU had contributed to peace in Europe as if he had, many people who did not realise that the press was grossly overstating what the then PM had said reacted strongly against the views attributed to him, which did significant damage to his credibility.

And when EU council president Donald Tusk actually did say that Brexit might start a process which could lead to the end of civilisation as we know it, astute Remain supporters held their heads in their hands in despair.

This, however, did not apply to the $350 million a week figure, for the simple reason that both the £161 million a week which Britain actually pays to the EU and the £350 million which Vote Leave wrongly claimed that Britain pays simply sound to most voters like a lot of money.


Some opinion polls suggest that a significant minority of the more fanatical leave supporters actually swallowed the £350 million falsehood, but I don't think there is any reasonable doubt that the leaders of the Leave campaign knew perfectly well that the figure they were using was completely misleading and took a deliberate decision to provoke a row by using it.

Before 23rd June I thought that the decision of the Leave campaign to use the false form of this argument rather than the true one was a strategic mistake. They surrendered the moral high ground and damaged the reputation for integrity of all the people they used to push the £350 million figure.

However, given the result, it would appear at least possible that it worked because, as they had planned, it diverted attention to the cost of the EU.

Because there actually is a large net payment from Britain to the EU, it seems that the advantage Leave got by reinforcing the message that Britain does pay scores of millions of pounds a week to the EU may have been significant to a majority of voters - 52% of them, anyway - enough to outweigh the disadvantage they got because a majority of people knew the Leave campaign were not telling the truth about how many millions.

This was, of course, in the specific context of a referendum, not the election of a government. Hence most people were voting on which policy they thought was right, not which campaign team had more integrity.

Although the referendum was won for Leave, there was a price, and both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have found it to be a pyrrhic victory.

We will never know whether Leave would have won without making that claim, but if they had it is entirely possible that Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would now be Prime Minister and that Gove would not be on the back benches.

Before declaring for Leave Boris's popularity ratings had a Teflon quality which defied gravity, but the most recent survey of the popularity of prominent politicians puts him in negative approval territory along with almost everyone else except Theresa May. Without the anger stirred up among that part of the Conservative party who voted remain - which includes more than half the parliamentary party - by the £350 million claim, Boris might well still have had enough support to stand for leader even after Michael Gove also decided to stand.

It is difficult to separate out the causes of Michael Gove's disastrous performance in the Conservative leadership election. It is very probable that his part in Leave campaign tactics in general and the £350 million claim in particular, his unfortunate comments about "experts" particularly the comparison of Nobel Prize winning economists with Nazis (for which he rightly apologised, but the damage was done, especially to himself) and the "Game of Thrones" style last minute stab-in-the-back against Boris probably all contributed.

What is beyond doubt is that the combined effect of these things trashed his standing with much of the Conservative party to about the level of popularity he enjoys among teachers.

The new PM might well have sacked Gove anyway as they are not exactly best friends and she was clearly determined to stamp her authority on the new cabinet, but the catastrophic decline in his reputation made his return to the back benches all the more likely.

Of course, if this tactic were used in an election campaign, it would have been far more risky. Most voters do pay some attention to whether the candidates for their vote have a reputation for integrity and for telling the truth.

It's not just Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who were damaged by the campaign. Most of the leaders of both the "Remain" and "Leave" campaigns took a big hit to their net approval ratings because of the (justified) impression that both sides fell short of the level of honesty that voters were entitled to expect.

Because this new version of the "dead cat strategy" appears to have worked once, it may be that some campaigners on right or left will try a new iteration of the "false £350 million gambit" in future elections.

I don't believe it deserves to succeed and I don't believe it will. But if it becomes obvious that a similar trick is being used in future to move the debate away from issues favourable to the opponents of the people deploying the trick, those opponents may be wise to consider that an instant rebuttal every time is not their best strategy.

Quote of the day 19th September 2016

Thomas Paine on Freedom:
 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Michael Heseltine's machine" goes to the great network in the sky

A family computer which we nicknamed "Michael Heseltine's machine" has just been taken on it's last journey to the great network in the sky, less any parts of it they can recycle, via Frizington household refuse collection centre, after more than two decades of good service.

When the computer concerned was new, having been custom ordered with a particular set of drives and video cards designed to allow it to run both certain contemporary items of software and the then current video CDs (this was shortly before the popular release of Digital Versatile Disc technology) there were some teething problems getting the various components to work together.

I dropped the computer off with the seller on my way to Conservative conference in Blackpool to have some of these issues addressed, asking if I could collect it on the way back.

On collecting the computer, now working perfectly, I was told with a grin how the company which sold me the computer had ensured that their own supplier moved quickly to get the relevant parts and software sorted out during the conference: they had explained to the supplier what the timetable was for sorting out the problem and implied that the computer was the personal machine used by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine! Apparently they had been very impressed and pulled their finger out.

I was always grateful to Michael for the fact that his mere reputation got my PC fixed on time!

It was a well-made piece of kit which served us well for about 21 years before finally ceasing to work earlier this year.

It's always been my policy where possible to buy computers from small businesses which you know and trust and can offer decent after-sales service rather than big chains, a policy followed from the day I bought one of my first PCs from a small business in St Albans more than a quarter of a century ago, up to and including yesterday when my wife and I ordered our latest family computer from a small business in Whitehaven. But I will always remember "Michael Heseltine's machine" of an example of the lengths to which some small business will go to give good service to their customers!


UKIP challenges Labour for the "Fighting like ferrets in a sack" award ...


Vladimir Putin is a 'political hero' of the new UKIP leader

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!



When the new UKIP leader was asked by Andrew Neil who apart from Vladimir Putin were her political heroes she did not take the opportunity to reject the implication that Putin was one: in fact she confirmed it.



I doubt that either Margaret Thatcher or Winston Churchill would have appreciated being in such company.





Ruth Davidson: Scottish independence would have been a disaster, let's not go back there

"After all the effort, commitment, hard work and sleepless nights of the campaign, I thought I’d be punching the air when we won. Actually, I wasn’t. I was quiet. Relief was a much more powerful emotion than joy. My country was safe. We hadn’t lost the UK. Now, we could come back together."

"Two years on, the relief is just as great. The economics of independence were always fantasy. We now know exactly what would have happened. A newly-independent Scotland would have been cast adrift into an extended oil price slump. The SNP’s dodgy sums would have been exposed in the most brutal, catastrophic fashion."

Two years on from the Indyref, Scots Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has written a very powerful plea to the SNP to honour the promises they made at the time accept the result and not "drag Scotland back to that place" from which the above quote is taken.

You can read her article here and it is well worth a read.

Sunday music spot: Thomas Tallis "If ye love me"

There is nothing quite like the tradition of English church music which culminated in the music of Byrd, Gibbons and Tallis ...





Quote of the day 18th September 2016

Alistair Campbell: support for Corbyn was “a disaster for the Labour party”.
Interrupting him, John McDonnell called the comments “nauseating”, adding:

“It’s nauseating because you are the one, above all else, who actually created the environment where no one believed a word a politician said."

(From an exchange between the Shadow Chancellor and former PM's Press Secretary on BBC Question Time last week.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday music spot O sing joyfully (Batten)


A breakfast conundrum

My wife recommended that I try some of a breakfast cereal which is described by the makers as "really nutty." It was quite good and we are likely to purchase it again - but we really should not miss the opportunity to craft a nickname for it.

Trouble is there are too many options which the words "really nutty" inspires

Corbyn Crunch

Farage Flakes

Cheerio Katie Hopkins

Sturgeon K


After all, apparently cereals which really exist include n Addams family cereal, Sir Grapefellow, Tony's Turboz, and worst of all "Slimer! And The Real Ghosterbusters Cereal" (how could that name make anyone feel like eating?)

I'm sure we'll decide on one of them soon!

A good analysis of Labour's woes

An excellent analysis of the debate in the Labour party in the FT. It can be read at

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/f706fb1e-7ac6-11e6-b837-eb4b4333ee43.html?siteedition=uk

Quote of the day 17th September 2016


Friday, September 16, 2016

If there were an olympic gold medal "Pot calling the kettle black contest" ...

If there were a recognised Olympic sport for making "Pot calling the kettle black" comments then Labour MP Angela Eagle would have won the Gold Medal it on "Any Questions" this evening.

For - wait for it - accusing the Conservatives of not agreeing with each other.

Yes, that's right, one of the 80% of Labour MPs who have no confidence in their leader took time off from the Labour party's current fratricidal conflict to accuse the Conservatives of being divided.

This is during a leadership election campaign in which, as she pointed out at a different point in the same programme, MPs like herself, particularly female ones, have been on the end of vile abuse and threats, mostly from supporters of the other side in Labour's leadership row - so much so that she had to disconnect the phones in her office for a few weeks.

This from an MP who is one of the great majority of the former Shadow Cabinet who recently resigned from it because they could not support the present party leader.

This from a member of the party whose leader released a "hit list" of thirteen MPs who were supposed to have abused the leader this week.

A party in which two of the best-known  members exchanged insults on Question Time yesterday, and the shadow chancellor is alleged to have sworn at the former PM's head spin doctor after the programme.

You really could not make it up, could you?

Negotiating Brexit

I think Britain needs to play a long and very patient game when it comes to negotiating Brexit.

We need to stay friends and trading partners with the other countries of Europe, including those who are EU members and those who are not. That will require us to take a negotiating stance which is firm but not hostile and constructive without being weak.

We will not get everything we want but we must negotiate hard for as much as possible.

France and Germany are under great pressure at the moment because of imminent elections in both countries next year and the impact of terrorism and migration issues. It may be that the best way to get a constructive negotiation is to trigger article 50 straight after the German elections.

If we do that, it is important to explain in advance to the French and Germans that the reason for that timetable is to help them as well as to help Britain.

According to the Telegraph today some elements in the EU want to take a tough line in the Brexit negotiations because they believe Britain will abandon Brexit if negotiations go badly enough.

If that is an accurate report of their views - and it is certainly true that some Eurocrats want to take a very hard line with the UK as they want Brexit to fail so there are no imitators - anyone who thinks Britain is going to change course now is delusional. We didn't all vote for this course of action - I was one of those who didn't - but a majority did, and a majority even among those of us who voted Remain think the worst thing we could do now is dither about whether to go ahead and respect their wishes or not.

We need to be calm and dignified - the UKIP twerps who shouted "Judas" at Britain's last EU commissioner for taking up the office gave a classic example of how not to behave. (Britain needs someone in that post speaking up for us for the remainder of the time before we leave.) And when we are put under pressure - which we will be - we must stand up to it.

Theresa May had a reputation as a tough negotiator within the coalition government, but also for keeping her bargains once she made them: that's what Nick Clegg said anyway that getting agreement with her was hard work but she would keep her word.

I believe him, and I certainly hope he was right because that approach is exactly what we will need now in our approach to the EU.

Thoughts on the US Presidential Election

I've just done an internet quiz on the US presidential election - the sort which matches voters and candidates. (Link - http://www.isidewith.com/elections/2016-presidential/2576044037)

Because the Republican party often flirts with hardliners but usually picks someone who in US terms is reasonably mainstream, I usually find that such quiz exercises tell me to vote Republican, but not this time.

Neither Donald J Trump not Hillary R Clinton was in my top two: my best match was with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and an independent I have never heard of is my "second choice" in policy terms.

Of course the main question for many US voters for this time could well be "Of which of these candidates are you less terrified by the thought of their finger on the nuclear button?"

It's going to be an interesting election - in the Confucian sense.

An interesting interview with Paddy Ashdown


Just read an interesting interview with Paddy Ashdown in the Guardian - notionally about his latest book but it cuts around all sorts of issues.

Some things in it which I strongly agree with, some that I very much disagree: one of the more interesting (the first half of which I do agree with) on the coalition government:

“I think history will judge it [2010 to 2015] one of the best periods of government we’ve had in my lifetime, and I don’t think we’ll see another as good for some considerable time.”

You can read the full interview here.

A66 road closure at Keswick tomorrow night and the following Saturday night

A SECTION of the A66 in Cumbria is set to be closed tomorrow night and again a week tomorrow.

The eastbound A66 between Crosthwaite roundabout and Briery interchange north of Keswick will be closed tomorrow evening (Saturday 17 September) between 8pm and 6am as part of the £500,000 resurfacing work in the area.

This will be followed next Saturday (24 September) by the closure of the westbound carriageway – again between 8pm and 6am – from the interchange to the roundabout.

Drivers heading eastbound during the closure period after 8pm tomorrow night will need to leave the A66 at Crosthwaite roundabout and head into Keswick and then onto the eastbound Penrith Road to rejoin the A66 at Briery interchange.

The same diversion route will operate in reverse during next weekend’s overnight closure of the westbound carriageway which will also include the interchange slip road.

Drivers are advised by the authorities to check traffic conditions before setting out on journeys while queues from the full closure clear.

Quote of the day 16th September 2016


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Battle of Britain service in Carlisle Cathedral this Sunday

A special service, which takes place every year to commemorate the Battle of Britain will be held this Sunday (18th September) at 3pm at Carlisle Cathedral.

In 1940, from 10 July until 31 October, the Royal Air Force Fighter Command thwarted the German Luftwaffe's attempts to gain air supremacy over possible invasion sites in Britain, averting possible invasion and downing 1,733 German aircraft.

But the efforts were not without significant sacrifice: 915 British craft were lost and an estimated 544 of the 2,927 aircrew of the RAF were killed.

The service, which is open to all, will be sung by the Cathedral Choir. The preacher will be The Reverend Canon Jan Keaton, Canon Warden, Carlisle Cathedral.
 

The Corbynista hit list

The civil war in the Labour party continues as Jeremy Corbyn's office issued a "hit list" of thirteen Labour MPS accused of abusing the Labour leader, and then apologised and said the list had been accidentally issued by a junior employee.

One of the MPs attacked was the Deputy Leader, two of the others were from West Cumbria - which will surprise nobody who has been paying the least attention to the war of words between the Labour leadership on the one hand and the MPs for Copeland and Barrow on the other.

Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn's campaign team issued a list of 13 Labour MPs, denouncing them for their "abuse" of the leader and his supporters.

The briefing cited Jess Phillips telling Diane Abbott to go forth and multiply, Tristram Hunt using a scatological metaphor to suggest Labour is in trouble, Tom Watson referring to Momentum as "a rabble" and John Woodcock calling a Corbyn PMQs performance a "disaster" with the f-word prefixed. (See a New Statesman report here for the exact quotes: bad language warning.)


Ian Austin, Neil Coyle, Ben Bradshaw, Frank Field, Anna Turley, Jamie Reed, Karl Turner, Stephen Kinnock and Tom Blenkinsop were also named in the list.

Ahead of last night's Sky News debate between Corbyn and Owen Smith, a Corbyn spokesman demanded that the challenger "condemn the abuse instigated by his high-profile supporters".

He said: "Owen Smith's campaign has become increasingly negative, focusing on attacking Jeremy Corbyn rather than presenting a positive vision for the party and country."

However, the attack had barely been made when the Corbynistas started to back-pedal. Sources close to the Corbyn campaign said that the list was issued by a junior member of the team and was not intended for official use.

A spokesman for Tom Watson said: "Tom Watson has received an apology from James Mills on behalf of the junior press officer in Jeremy Corbyn's campaign team who released this list by mistake."

A Labour MP named on the list said: "With one breath Jeremy calls for unity and for the party to come together and with the next they publish this anonymous hit-list. I think members will be really dismayed."

More details of the row here.

This is not the behaviour of a party which is in a position to form a government.

Hinkley Point approved

The first new UK nuclear power plant for year will go ahead.

In a statement, the government said: "After Hinkley, the British Government will take a special share in all future nuclear new build projects. This will ensure that significant stakes cannot be sold without the Government's knowledge or consent."

It added: "There will be reforms to the government's approach to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure to ensure that the full implications of foreign ownership are scrutinised for the purposes of national security."

Energy Secretary Greg Clark, said: "Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the government's agreement.

"Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation."

More details here and here.

Quote of the day 15th September 2016



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Record numbers in work as unemployment continues to fall

EMPLOYMENT UP, JOBLESSNESS DOWN

UK unemployment fell to 1.63 million between May and July. according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The unemployment rate was 4.9%, down from 5.5% a year ago and little changed from last month.


The Employment rate was up to 74.5%, in other words nearly three quarters of people who can work have jobs, which is a record high rate: there are 31.77 million people in work.

I think it is unfortunate that these good figures have been quoted almost entirely in terms of the decision to leave the EU, when they provide no real support to the arguments of either side in that debate.

We have not yet left the EU: analysis describe UK employment as "resilient" before and after the EU vote. It looks unlikely that it will be obvious whether leaving the EU helps or hinders UK employment until some time after we actually do leave, (probably in 2019) and possibly not even then.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "The UK's labour market proved resilient in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave the EU"

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, agreed the jobs data showed "no immediate impact from the Brexit vote".

The ONS said the figures, which only cover one month since the result of the EU referendum, show "continuing improvement" in the jobs market.

WAGES ALSO UP

Growth in average weekly earnings was 2.3% over the year to August, marginally less than in previous months. That is still ahead of inflation, which was 0.6% in the year to August.

The claimant count, including Jobseeker's Allowance, went up from the previous month by 2,400 to 771,000.

One interesting aspect of the employment figures concerns the number of people employed in the public sector, which is down to 5.33 million, the lowest level since the Office for National Statistics started collecting the figures in 1999 and a drop of 13,000 since March.

This indicates a re-balancing of the economy towards the private sector. Employment is at record levels, but it is the private sector that is providing the lions share of the opportunities and all of the net increase in jobs.

A day of weather contrasts

Comparatively ordinary day here on the West Coast of Cumbria yesterday, from the weather view, but this was not true in places comparatively close by.

Parts of Britain, particularly in the South, had one of the warmest September days on record.

Parts of the North West, including areas of central Cumbria, had extremely heavy rainfall and very violent thunderstorms.

Extraordinary really, though no surprise to anyone with much experience of weather in Cumbria or the UK - (e.g. any observant person who has lived here for long) just how changeable and variable over close distances it can be. Like that advert which had sunshine in one garden and a downpour in the adjacent one!

Quote of the day 14th September 2016


For the avoidance of doubt, I am not posting the quote below because I think that the result of the next election is pre-ordained or that it is absolutely impossible that Labour could win. The voters should never by taken for granted and if the Conservatives assumed that Labour could never win and that we can do whatever we like that would be disastrous for Britain and for ourselves.

I'm posting this quote from the article by Alex Andreou called "Jeremy Corbyn: A Disastrous Year" to which I have previously referred because it sums up the disastrous mistake Labour is making and which all parties need to avoid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Boundary changes are needed - it will be a democratic outrage if no change goes through

This morning the politically neutral Boundaries Commission published a set of proposals for parliamentary boundary changes. Since these would mean that at least 50 MPs will lose their seats, it is unsurprising that the airwaves this morning were full of self-interested whining from various MPs and activists.

There will now be a period of consultation on the proposed new boundaries. It is entirely possible that there may be some bad ideas in the initial proposals: my experience is that if a strong case is assembled, with real public support, to point out a bad proposal, the Boundary Commission has often been known to listen to representations and change the boundaries they are putting forward, as they did in Cumbria during the last parliament.

The criticisms I make below about those who attack the entire process of updating parliamentary boundaries do not apply to those who think the specific proposals are wrong for their area and come up with constructive alternative proposals to improve them. It is far too early to say that the changes which will or should be put forward will be the ones published today.

But it is not too early to say that it would be a disaster for democracy in Britain if the final recommendations which the Boundary Commission comes up with after consultations are not adopted. Nor is it too early to say that the vast majority of those who appear on TV or the radio to attack the boundary review process, as Labour’s Jon Ashworth, shadow minister without portfolio, did on the Today programme this morning, will be engaged in self-interested partisan politics, putting their own or their party's political interests before those of the country and talking complete rubbish.

Over the years people move: some towns grow, some shrink and very occasionally they even disappear beneath the sea. To keep constituencies at a reasonable and consistent size you need an impartial process to review and update them every so often. The longer you leave it between the reviews, the harder they will be to do, because they will have to be more drastic and upset more members of parliament.

There was a time when Britain had no change to the electoral composition of parliament for centuries. Towards the end of that time, until it was finally addressed by the great reform act in the 1830s, it was notorious that while some great towns and cities were under-represented or completely unrepresented because they were too new, many MPs in parliament came from "rotten boroughs" which had fewer than ten electors - and yes, including a town which had disappeared beneath the sea but still returned two MPs to the House of Commons.

It was to avoid that situation being re-established that Britain set up an independent boundary commission and evolved a tradition which held for decades until 2012, that once the commission made a final recommendation after full consultation all parties had a duty to implement it.

The present constituency boundaries are based on data which is more than a decade out of date. If for a second parliament running no steps to update them are agreed, we will have taken a measurable step back towards the era of rotten boroughs.

Early in the last parliament it was agreed, through all the correct procedures, that the number of MPs would reduce from 650 to 600 and that the remit of the Boundary Commission would reduce the permitted variation in numbers of electors between constituencies. This was based on a promise in the 2010 Conservative manifesto, was included in the Coalition Agreement, and was voted into law by Lib/Dem as well as Conservative MPs and peers. Those people who are attacking the Boundary Commission proposals for this reduction or for more equal constituency sizes are attacking them for following what has been law for five years.

These changes, though made law early in the last parliament, did not come into effect because in 2012 Nick Clegg took revenge on the Conservative backbenchers who scuppered his proposals for House of Lords reform by joining with Ed Miliband to vote down the recommendations of the Commission - and thereby destroying the convention that all parties should support what the independent boundary commission recommends.

Here are a couple of articles from two people who see the need to update our boundaries

 1) Sean O'Grady in the Independent

 2) Robert Colville in CAPX

In my opinion the case they make is overwhelming.


POSTSCRIPT - RESPONDING TO THE ARGUMENTS.

There have been some points made by various critics of the government about which register should have been used. Jon Ashworth made the (valid) point that the most accurate and best registers to use are the ones just after a general election of referendum. What he failed to acknowledge is that the register being used (the December 2015 one shortly after the 2015 election) meets that criteria. When the timetable for this boundary review was set nobody knew when the EU referendum would be held or how badly using the register following that referendum (for which Ashworth was, in effect, retrospectively arguing) would have delayed the review. If it made it too late to bring the changes in for the 2020 election - and in 2015 nobody could be certain that was not the case - that would have meant that election was fought on demographic information two decades out of date.

Mike Smithson makes a far more defensible criticism here of the use of the 2015 register. He argues that this register shrank because of the introduction of individual registration and suggests that an end 2016 register would have given more time for this process to work through.

This is the only criticism of the process I have seen for which I have any time whatsoever - all the others are mere self-serving hypocrisy without a shred of justification. Mike's concerns were shared by the Electoral Commission and unlike any of the other arguments coming forward against the general principles of the review, I can see how it is possible for an impartial, well-informed and reasonable person to agree with it. But on balance I do not.

Let's not forget why Individual Voter Registration was introduced: because there were fears that the previous system was too open to abuse and to electoral fraud. There has been other evidence since then such as the Pickles review that we do need to crack down on such fraud.

If those fears were genuine, then a reduction in numbers registered is EXACTLY what you would expect to see. I don't dispute for an instant that we need to continue to work to ensure that fraudulent or coerced voting is reduced while trying to ensure that genuine voters are not disenfranchised.

But I have not seen any hard evidence what part of the drop in registration represents an improvement (reduction in fraud and error) and what proportion represents a problem (legitimate voters not registering). However, it is almost certain that even individual registration has produced a net increase in error - which we don't know - then an up-to-date 2015 register with that error will still far more closely reflect where voters are in 2020 than a review based on a review at the turn of the century which will by then be two decades out of date.

My fear is that if we keep putting the date of the register on which we base the review back to try to get the allowance for IVR perfect - which we never will - it will get put further back, and back again. Then before we know it there will be inadequate time to complete the review, get the legislation through parliament and give parties time to select candidates in time for 2020 and we'll be going with increasingly outdated boundaries for another parliament. You can agree or disagree with this view, but wanting to get the boundaries up-to-date is NOT gerrymandering.

Hague on Cameron's resignation

I have little doubt that when David Cameron said on stepping down as PM that he would continue as MP for Witney, that he meant it.

However, the recent history of former Prime Ministers in the House of Commons has not been a happy one.

If, like Gordon Brown, they practically disappear from view, they get accused of failing to do their duty to their constituents.

If they remain active then almost everything they do can at best be a distraction from the policies of their successors or at worst will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as trying to undermine them.

Margaret Thatcher endured years of ungracious treatment from Ted Heath while she was PM but after losing power treated her own Conservative successor even worse.

As William Hague wrote in the Telegraph yesterday,

"A former prime minister sitting in the commons is always in a difficult position, particularly if his or her party is still in government. From William Pitt to Margaret Thatcher, former premiers have found it thankless to sit on the back benches."

"And for someone still in the prime of life, there is a natural urge to get on with new ideas and challenges. It is not in David Cameron's nature to be a Ted Heath or a David Lloyd George, hanging on in the hope the world will see that they should be restored to power."

Satisfaction ratings

I have been reading an article by Alex Andreou called "Jeremy Corbyn: A Disastrous Year" to which I will be referring again.

One of the extraordinary thing it quotes is the satisfaction ratings found by MORI and other pollsters for the PM and leader of the opposition.

No, I have not forgotten what went wrong with the opinion polls in the 2015 general election and the 2016 referendum, and I have not started regarding opinion polls as gospel, but what 2015 and 2016 told us is that tells us is that opinion polls cannot be relied on to correctly predict the outcome of any electoral contest which appears to be close.

But properly conducted opinion polls are still better than assuming that what your mate down the pub says is always representative of the entire country. When the polls all say that someone is going to get well and truly hammered in an election or referendum, it probably really does mean that they are in big trouble with the voters.

Most Conservative Prime ministers would be happy with the figures in the chart below comparing their satisfaction rating with those of the opposition leader if they represented the whole electorate. These are the figures for LABOUR VOTERS (or at least, people who were!)




I can imagine how the PM and her team responded to these figures:




But although a certain degree of satisfaction would be entirely forgivable. there can be no room for  complacency, which would be very bad for both the country and the Conservative party. We need to recognise the mistakes the Labour party are making and make sure we do not fall into the same traps.

As Alex writes,

"Labour is a party plagued by Magical Thinking. Reality has disappeared from view. Oblivion beckons."

"What has been genuinely interesting, and an education personally, is to be suddenly on the "wrong" side of the divide. I was vaguely aware of the right wing's tendency to dismiss the left as naive and the left's propensity for asserting moral superiority and labelling the right as evil. But when those same tropes seamlessly extended to a contest which objectively involved two shades of the left, I experienced how truly ineffective such attitudes are as instruments of changing anyone's mind."

"Most of Corbyn's support has spent the last couple of months maligning the vast majority of Labour MPs as useless, evil, Tory-lite, war-mongering, corrupt, neoliberal, feckless liars. The same MPs for whom most of them voted a year ago. Remember those comments. When Corbyn appoints his Shadow Cabinet, all The Sun will need to do, all Theresa May will need to do, to discredit them completely, is quote their own colleagues. You live by the meme, you die by the meme."

"If Lynton Crosby had managed to run a campaign which planted the idea in public consciousness that 80% of Labour MPs are utter scumbags, it would be held as the most devastating smear exercise in modern politics. If the Tory PR machine had managed to reduce 13 years of a Labour government to the single issue of the Iraq war and paint that in the most inflammatory way, we would protest day and night that this isn't so."

Quite. Let's make sure we don't fall prey to any of the same mistakes or allow ourselves to get similarly out of touch with the people of Britain.