Friday, March 24, 2017

Allie Renison on the need to leave Referendum divisions behind

Rather too many of the comments I have read about Brexit since the vote to leave the EU on 23rd June last year have ranged from Panglossian optimism from "leave" supporters or die-in-the-ditch pessimism from "Remainers" to completely barking off-the-wall insanity from both extremes such as Hezza's suggestion that leaving the EU is like handing the Germans retrospective victory in World War II.

(Can both sides PLEASE give the WWII and Hitler references a rest?)

Too many on both sides are still fighting the battles of the referendum campaign instead of moving on.

There is a very good article on Conservative Home by Allie Renison, who is Head of Europe and Trade Policy at the Institute of Directors which suggests how we can move on from this and concentrate on getting the best deal for Britain. Here are a couple of extracts,

"We throw around these labels, “Remoaner”, “Brexit fanatic”, with alarming alacrity, not realising how painful divisions are being cemented more deeply with every passing day. For Remainers, the cavalier attitude with which some Leavers appear to treat negotiations which warrant a more serious approach hardens their certainty about impending disaster. There are opportunities which await the UK out of the EU, but the challenges are more immediate and must be acknowledged and tackled to take full undiminished advantage of those dividends.

Conversely, many on the Remain side seem determined to wallow in the sheer complexity of it all, more interested in proving that the EU will smite the UK, than advancing arguments for cooperation with their European friends. It is imperative that we meet each other half way. We must stop letting mediums get in the way of this message about forging a cooperative and positive approach. Dismissing the arguments of others because of who they are, how they voted, or what we think they think won’t help. This is not a time for smugness and satisfaction, on all sides. It’s a time to muck in and start doing the legwork to come up with solutions to problems.

We are doomed to being in a perpetual state of rerunning the referendum battle if we don’t start talking to each other honestly, openly and seriously about the future. And calmly. Many of the meetings on Brexit I have been to, or spoken at, are echo chambers, full of visceral disdain and downright loathing for those who advocated a different position to them. I try my hardest to approach every discussion with an open mind, given Brexit is putting the UK and the EU into unchartered waters where there is no real precedent. To find the grey in a continuing sea of insistent black and white. This is not a time for being sure of anything, good or bad.

In some ways, the referendum itself feels a distant memory, so quickly have I shifted to focusing on how I can help make this work. This is perhaps a reflection of my dealings with businesses every day, those who can’t afford to stop and wallow. I realise that for many people, the shock is still real, as too is the sadness. Instead of poking fun at these “Remoaners”, Leavers would do well to try and show they understand that, even if the sentiment is in no way shared. But they don’t call Britain a “carry on” culture for nothing.

As Winston Churchill put it,

'If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future'”.

You can read the full article here.

Contacting Emergency Services when you cannot speak

There are a number of circumstances when someone may need to call emergency services but not be able to speak.

The example which was  publicised in a Metro article this week was the situation where a caller is being held hostage by someone who does not realise that they have access to a telephone, of if the caller does not want to give away his or her location to a terrorist or other criminal.

It is also possible, however, that you might have had a fall, accident or attack of illness which rendered you unable to speak - an injury to the throat can do this, or if you are choking - but not unable to push the buttons on a phone.

If that is your situation, there is a means of letting the operator know that it is a genuine emergency call and not just a case of a mobile phone in someone's pocket being pressed by random movement and causing an accidental call to be made.

When you call 999, an operator asks which emergency service you require before rerouting the call to the police, ambulance service or fire brigade.

If a 999 caller doesn’t talk, the operator will ask them to cough or make another audible sound.

If you physically cannot make a noise or if it is not safe to do so – for example, if it could alert a potential attacker to your exact whereabouts - there’s a simple way of signalling that it’s a genuine emergency and you haven’t just accidentally pocket-dialled.

You simply dial 55.

The procedure is called Silent Solutions and it was created so people in an emergency can call the police in dangerous situations.

After you dial 999 and you’ve been unable to audibly signal to the operator, your call will be forwarded to an operating system. If you’re in danger, dial 55 otherwise the call will be terminated.

The ‘55’ Silent Solution protocol has been in place for over a decade, although police have recently issued a reminder as not many people know about the protocol.

A police spokesman told Metro:

‘Please do not think that just because you dial 999 that police will attend.

‘We totally understand that sometimes people are unable or too afraid to talk, however it must be clear that we will not routinely attend a silent 999 call.

‘There must be some indication that the call has not been misdialled.’

You Will Never Defeat Us: Andrew Neil's message to "Jihadi Johnnies"

Andrew Neil opened "This week" with a tribute to PC Keith Palmer and a message to Islamist wannabee terrorists: "You will never defeat us" because for every terrorist there are thousands of heroes like Keith Palmer.


Nominations open for County Council elections

Nominations have now opened for the Cumbria County Council elections (and for elections to other county councils and for Directly Elected Mayors for the West Midlands and Manchester.)

Nominations are open from 10am today (Friday 24th March 2017) to 4pm on Tuesday 4th April.

The election will be on Thursday 4th May and polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm.

Quote of the day 24th March 2017


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Full statements by PM Theresa May, Speaker and party leaders

This clip shows the full session in which the Speaker, the PM, and the leaders of other parties spoke in the House of Commons in response to yesterday's terrorist attack. All of them paid tribute to the late PC Keith Palmer and all those police officers and the men and women of the emergency services who work to defend us all.



WE WILL NEVER GIVE IN


Extracts from Prime Minister Theresa May's speech to the House of Commons today. The full text is available on the government website here.


"Mr Speaker, yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy.

But today we meet as normal – as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do – to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid. And our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism.

And we meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy, and the values it entails, will always prevail.

Those values – free speech, liberty, human rights and the rule of law – are embodied here in this place, but they are shared by free people around the world.

A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather to celebrate what it means to be free. And he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children.

Mr Speaker, this was an attack on free people everywhere – and on behalf of the British people, I would like to thank our friends and allies around the world who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.

What happened on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon sickened us all."


"Tragically, as the House will know, 48-year-old PC Keith Palmer, was killed.

PC Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country. He had been a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that.

He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved.

He was every inch a hero. And his actions will never be forgotten.

I know the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family – and to the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in yesterday’s awful attacks.

I know also that the House will wish to thank all those who acted with such speed and professionalism yesterday to secure this place and ensure we are able to meet as we are doing today."

Mr Speaker, yesterday we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best.

We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of PC Keith Palmer, including those by my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Bournemouth East.

And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way.

On behalf of the whole country I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city.

That they have lost one of their own in yesterday’s attack only makes their calmness and professionalism all the more remarkable."

"Mr Speaker, a lot has been said since terror struck London yesterday. Much more will be said in the coming days.

But the greatest response lies not in the words of politicians, but in the everyday actions of ordinary people.

For beyond these walls today – in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country – millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives.

The streets are as busy as ever.

The offices full. The coffee shops and cafes bustling.

As I speak millions will be boarding trains and aeroplanes to travel to London, and to see for
themselves the greatest city on Earth.

It is in these actions – millions of acts of normality – that we find the best response to terrorism.

A response that denies our enemies their victory. That refuses to let them win. That shows we will never give in.

A response driven by that same spirit that drove a husband and father to put himself between us and our attacker, and to pay the ultimate price.

A response that says to the men and women who propagate this hate and evil: you will not defeat us.

Mr Speaker, let this be the message from this House and this nation today: our values will prevail."

When a "Spoof" site says no more than the truth

Sometimes the truth is so absurd that Spoof websites find it difficult to parody. Sometimes the opposite happens.

Today one of the clearest statements of things not being absurd came from "The Daily Mash" a spoof site who publish parodies of news stories designed to amuse, who today wrote

"London in grip of normality."

"LONDON is today in the grip of normality, with millions having their breakfast then going to work.
 
As the sun rose on a slightly chilly but otherwise pleasant spring day, residents of the metropolis faced up to doing the things that they would ordinarily do.
 
 
Librarian Susan Traherne said: “I’m going to have a bowl of Jordan’s Country Crisp with the dried strawberry bits in it and a cup of tea, and then get on the busy tube train to my work.
 
“I might read a few pages of my book on the way, if I can be arsed.
 
“As ever it will be a long and tiring day, and the city can be frustrating but it’s really not too bad.”
 
24-year-old accounts assistant Wayne Hayes said: “After work I’m going to a bar where they just sell small batch gin and ironic retro crabsticks.
 
“You might find that annoying and I suppose it is a bit, but hey it’s a free country.”

I presume they have made up the quotes but otherwise the joke, if there is one, is that this is all completely true.

PC Keith Palmer RIP

The brave police officer who was murdered during yesterday's terrorist attack in Westminster has been named as PC Keith Palmer. He was 48 years old and was a husband and father.

Before serving his country as a police officer for fifteen years he had served his country in our armed forces. MP James Cleverly tweeted this morning

"I've known Keith for 25 years. We served together in the Royal Artillery before he became a copper. A lovely man, a friend. I'm heartbroken."

Remembering PC Keith Palmer and thinking of his family and those of the other victims today.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 23rd March 2017

I have already posted a video and the full text of the PM's statement last night

However, I thought it was worth highlighting the concluding words of that address, about how parliament will meet today as normal and how people in London will live their lives today as normal, as today's quote of the day to make the point that terrorist attack's like yesterday's will never succeed in destroying Britain's democracy.

(Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, Prime Minister.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Guardian gets one right

No group of human beings has a monopoly on truth or falsehood, on wisdom or foolishness.

I disagree with much that appears in The Guardian but occasionally they get something right.

Jonathan Freedland has a column on the Guardian website this evening,

"Bravery and simple humanity have shown Westminster at its' best"

which is an example. Here is the conclusion of the column.


"Yet if those who denounce Westminster had only seen it today. The speed with which the police and the emergency services ran towards danger when every human instinct would propel most of us away from it. The help ordinary people gave other ordinary people when they saw them lying hurt on Westminster Bridge. The security officers who brought a tray of tea to the police officers standing guard, watching over them. The visitors herded to safety, including a mother pushing a baby in a buggy. And the group of schoolchildren who reportedly decided to cheer up all those in lockdown in parliament’s Central Lobby with a spontaneous singsong.

Last year, on this very day, Brussels was targeted by suicide bombers who killed 32 people. For a few days, it stopped being the despised “Brussels” of anti-EU rhetoric and became Brussels, scene of tragedy. More than 20 years ago I witnessed the same transformation, when a US government building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168. “Federal bureaucrats” had been a hated class – until people saw them carrying their wounded and grieving for their children. Today it was “Westminster’s” turn. Not a metaphor, not a far-off citadel of wicked, scheming politicians but a real place, filled with real people – as vulnerable to an act of murderous violence as anybody else."

Prime Minister Theresa May's statement on today's terror attack





Here is the text of the Prime minister's statement on today's attack

Midweek music spot Lux Aeternam from the Mozart Requiem

I had something different lined up for tonight's midweek music slot but it can wait for the weekend.

Instead, remembering the police officer who died at Westminster this afternoon and the other innocent victims who also died as a result of the terrorist attack, here is a movement of the Mozart Requiem

The words mean

"Grant them eternal rest O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them."



In gratitude for the work of our brave police officers

This image was shared by the Metropolitan Police Federation this evening in a message thinking about their members, all the brave police officers who have been protecting the public today.



We should all be grateful for the sacrifice of the brave officer who died today protecting the home of democracy and for all those police officers who have given their lives protecting the people of our country.

We are not afraid

This logo has been shared on social media in response to the terrorist attack in London today

Statement from the parliamentary authorities about today's attack at Westminister

Mr Speaker and the Lord Speaker have made a statement following the terrorist attack in Westminster this afternoon.
                       
"An extremely serious incident has occurred in the Westminster area this afternoon. The Metropolitan Police is dealing with this and an investigation is underway.

“On behalf of Members of both Houses of Parliament, we wish to offer our thoughts to all those affected and their families.

“We would also like to that express our gratitude to the police and all emergency services.”
 
My thoughts, and I am sure those of almost everyone in Britain at this time, are with the family of the police officer who died in the line of duty defending parliament, and with the families of the other innocent victims who have died, and with the injured victims and their families.

Dire travel conditions in some parts of Cumbria today

There has been snow and severe weather in several parts of Cumbria over the last 24 hours. Corney Fell has been closed and several other roads such as the A6 near Shap are affected by ice and require drivers to be careful.

If you have to travel in Cumbria today take extra care.

Quote of the day 22nd March 2017


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What are the chances of an snap general election?

Yet more speculation from the press about the possibility of an early general election.

Yet another dismissal of the idea from Number Ten: The Prime Minister's spokesperson yesterday responded to speculation about an early general election by saying "There is not going to be one." and adding that the idea was "Nonsense."

The Prime Minister has now said so many times that she does not want a snap election or think the country needs one that she would have to have a very good reason to justify changing her mind. It is important to Theresa May that she is seen to be a woman of her word.

"I've got the opportunity to get a bigger majority because Corbyn is so useless"

would not cut it as an excuse, let alone as an argument to use when trying to get the required two-thirds majority for a dissolution  motion through the House of Commons.

Most of the people who think that the Conservatives may call a snap election don't appear to have thought through how difficult the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) now makes it. I can only see one circumstance in which it could happen.

It won't happen over Brexit because the government now has the authority to trigger Article 50 and negotiate, and the fact that they managed to get the "Exiting the European Union" Act though both houses of parliament reasonably quickly and with no amendments demonstrates that, however divisive the issue is, the government appears to have a working majority on the most important and difficult issues of the day.

Under the previous political rules, losing major parts of your budget because you don't have a big enough majority to get it through would be a serious issue for a government and if such a government had a 19-point lead in the polls the temptation to call a snap general election to try to increase their majority would probably have been irresistible.

But these are not normal times as the fact that the governing party could have to pull the main change in the budget after a week and still be 19 points ahead in the following opinion poll demonstrates.

By comparison with the challenge of making a success of Brexit, issues which would normally pose an existential challenge to a government, such as being forced to withdraw the NI changes, are relatively peripheral.

And then there are the actual mechanics of trying to call a snap election under the FTPA which are anything but straightforward. Jeremy Corbyn has said he would tell his MPs to support a dissolution motion but would he really do it when looking down the barrel of a 19-point deficit in the opinion polls and the prospect of Labour being smashed down  below the 150 seats mark? And even if he did, would enough Labour turkeys obey orders and vote for an early Christmas?

If there isn't a two-thirds majority for a dissolution motion, a government which wants an early election has two other options. One is to try to repeal the FTPA itself. That would require a simple majority in the House of Commons - and the House of Lords - and the present government does not have a majority in the Upper House. If their Lordships did not support the repeal of FTPA or didn't want an early election and stood firm, they could be over-ruled using the Parliament Act - but that takes six months. This might work as a means of arranging well in advance to have an early election - if for instance the government decided now that it wanted to have an election straight after Brexit in 2019 - but as a means of calling a snap election it is a non-starter.

The kamikazi option for a party with a majority in the House of Commons which wants an early election is to pass a motion of no-confidence in the government and then use that majority to prevent any other government being formed.

This would amount to deliberately creating a constitutional crisis which begins with the government declaring that it has no confidence in itself. Anyone who suggests this route could be used in circumstances other than the direst emergency has not thought through how utterly dreadful it would look. It could very easily send the markets into free-fall and would be a terrible start to an election campaign.

There is, however, one scenario in which Theresa May could and probably would go to parliament and ask for a dissolution with every prospect of getting it.

I do not think this is likely, but suppose that the ongoing investigation into 2015 election expenses produced prosecutions against a large enough number of Conservative MPs as to threaten the government's majority -e.g. ten or more - and call into question the legitimacy of the government's election.

If that were to happen then the right thing for the government to do would be to immediately call a new general election to seek a fresh mandate, and I think it would be very difficult for opposition MPs to vote against a dissolution motion proposed in such circumstances.

A government which accepted the need for a fresh election without waiting for the court cases would probably get credit for doing the right thing and minimise the damage from the fact that the prosecutions had been brought: a government which appeared to be trying to cling to power when its' democratic legitimacy had gone would be likely to suffer for it. Mrs May is clever enough to work that one out. So I suspect there is a contingency plan at Conservative Campaign Centre for a snap election if things go seriously pear-shaped on the expenses front.

But if, as I strongly suspect will be the case, there isn't evidence which would justify a prosecution in more than one or two cases, then my money is on the next election taking place in May 2020.

Study into possible Whitehaven by-pass commissioned

Cumbria County Council has agreed to commission a £60,000 study whose remit includes an investigation of the potential for a relief road for Whitehaven.

The study will take about six month. Also taking place at the same time will be investigations to explore what improvements can be made to parts of the A595, A66 and A590.

The study, a joint project with Highways England and Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, will look at issues such as traffic flow and value for money.

Findings will be submitted to Highways England and Transport for the North as part of wider work to identify transport priorities for 2020-2025.

Quote of the day 21st March 2017

"For the SNP to have one Tory leader more popular than Nicola Sturgeon is misfortune. To have two looks like carelessness."

(Liz Smith MSP, channelling Oscar Wilde's superb creation Lady Bracknell, in response to an opinion poll for Sky which found that both Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and PM Theresa May have positive ratings among Scots to the question of whether they are doing a good or bad job, and both score better than First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has a negative one.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Vera Lynn at 100

Forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn who did so much to keep up the spirits of the heroes in our armed forces and civilians like during the dark days of World War II, is a hundred years old today.

Her face has been projected on the White Cliffs of Dover.

Many happy returns to a wonderful lady.

Trustees say St Bees School will re-open in September 2018

The trustees of St Bees school have released a statement today to the effect that they have created a partnership with Shenzhen International, a South East Asian education group, and the school will reopen in September 2018.

The 432-year-old school closed with little warning in June 2015, due to falling pupil numbers and financial problems. The statement says:

"Trustees have remained focused in their objective to re-establish learning and education at St Bees School. As such, the partnership has been established, with an agreement now in place for the reopening of the school.

"Shenzhen International has been chosen for this partnership as their values are fully supportive to the ethos of the school.

"The partnership has a clear and unified vision of educating global leaders for the internationally mobile world.

"The commitment is to provide high quality academic education combined with a focus on personal development. St Bees School will be welcoming day and boarding pupils from West Cumbria, further afield in the UK and internationally, providing an opportunity for the pupils to form lifelong friendships across the globe."

The trustees added that the partnership was committed to developing 'bespoke' learning programmes for pupils. Their statement continues:

"Strong links with the community have been established over the last two years and local clubs, history groups and businesses have continued to make use of the school’s facilities.

"It is essential to the future success of the school that these links are maintained and the trustees will work with local bodies to support the West Cumbrian economy and sustain diversity in the community.

"The school has a rich and proud history of over 400 years and will retain the ethos and its Christian values, yet will look to innovate with state of the art teaching methodology and techniques, where appropriate."


Source: Cumbria News Group (Times & Star/News & Star)

Quote of the day 20th March 2017


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Salmond and Farron go the full Donald Trump

Both Alex Salmond and Tim Farron have gone the full Donald Trump today, with Salmond getting into an absurd spin about whether he described the 2014 Independence Referendum as a once in a generation event, and Tim Farron accusing Theresa May of being anti-NATO.


The former First Minister was speaking on Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme earlier today, and said:

“The phrase was not once in a lifetime, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, I said it on the Andrew Marr show, it’s just one of these collective myths that evolve.”

Sources include Press and Journal here.

However there is plenty of footage showing that he actually did say it.

Andrew Marr asked Salmond whether he would come back for a second independence referendum if there was a narrow "Better Together" win, and concluded his question with the words

"You've talked in the past about it being once in a generation, is that still your view?"

and the then First Minister replied, as you can see on the clip below

"Yes it is."

Salmond then added a reference to the period of nearly 20 years between two previous constitutional referenda in Scotland. He twice referred to the 2014 as a "once in a generation" opportunity, saying

"In my view this is a once in a generation, perhaps even once in a lifetime opportunity for Scotland."


And it wasn't just one person's opinion either. The Scottish government's official prospectus for Independence, "Scotland's Future" which you can read at

http://www.gov.scot/resource/0043/00439021.pdf,

states clearly in black and which under answer 557 on page 556 of the document,

"It is the view of the current Scottish government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

See this clip which starts with a short extract from the Salmond interview with Andrew Marr referred to above, shows the passage in "Scotland's Future" and then has lots and lots of instances of Nicola Sturgeon referring to the 2014 referendum as once in a generation or lifetime.



After lots of people started sharing these video clips showing that he did say "once in a generation," Salmond then denied having denied it. He really has gone the full Donald Trump.

And so has Lib/Dem leader Tim Farron, when he accused Theresa May of being anti-NATO.

Ironically, the speech in which Farron went the full Donald Trump himself was when he accused Theresa May of following the policies of Donald Trump, saying

"The politics of Trump. Of Putin. Of Le Pen. And now the politics of Her Majesty's Government. Welcome to the new world order. This is the new normal, the new status quo."

"Aggressive. Nationalistic. Anti-NATO. Anti-EU. It is the post-war internationalist consensus unravelling in real time. Winston Churchill's vision for a world that achieves peace through trade, common values and shared endeavour evaporating before our eyes."

Many aspects of this ludicrous rant from Tim Farron are completely and utterly at variance with the facts.

* The British government has been and remains extremely critical of Putin's government in Russia, imposes sanctions on Russia and recently moved British troops to support a fellow NATO member that we were afraid Russia might invade.

* The British government has refused to have anything to do with Marine Le Pen (and been criticised for it by Nigel Farage)

* The British government has been making a huge point of its' support for NATO, meets the4 2% defence spending target and has encouraged other NATO members to do so, and has pressed the Trump administration to reaffirm its' commitment to the NATO alliance

 * Far from rejecting Churchill's vision of peace through trade Theresa May has stressed the need for free trade and a global Britain which wants more free trade in practically every speech she has made about Foreign policy.

I don't accept that the positions of Theresa May's government are aggressive, nationalistic, or anti-EU beyond respecting the referendum decision to leave, but to accuse her government of being anti-NATO, anti-trade, pro Putin or pro Le Pen is just plain daft.

Poll of the week

Speaking as a Conservative who believes it is in both our own interest and that of the country that we have at least a half-competent opposition to keep us on our toes, the total and utter failure of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party to provide it is becoming embarrassing.

When the Conservatives last went through a really, really bad patch twenty years ago, the hardest thing to take was not when I encountered hatred. Nor was it being taken for a joke. The hardest thing to take from my political opponents was pity. Partly for that reason I try not to feel pity for members of the Labour party. The other thing I keep reminding myself is that the Conservatives are not popular, it is only the total failure of our opponents which makes us look less dreadful by comparison and we still need to do better and avoid complacency.

Intelligent commentators who are not on the right or centre-right - a few of them do exist - are in a total state of despair and writing things like the column Nick Cohen penned this weekend,

Don't tell me you weren't warned about Corbyn.

This is the latest poll for "Who would make the best Prime Minister?"

Labour supporters of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now ...



It's been suggested that his figures would not be quite so bad if he changed his name by deed poll to "Don't Know."

Sunday music spot: The Final Countdown with Star Wars video

There is an extraordinary range of both Star Trek and Star Wars parodies of famous songs on the internet. The quality varies from the very good indeed through those which have good ideas but are terribly executed to those which are utterly dire.

Over the Christmas season a couple of years back I took a few Star Trek versions of Christmas songs and put them on this blog as A "Star Trek Christmas."

At some stage this year I will spend a week putting up some of the best Star Wars musical parodies as a Star Wards musical parody week.

This music video does not quite fit into that pattern: rather than being a parody it takes one of my favourite songs - "The Final Countdown" and fits to the lyrics a video presentation consisting of the battle at the climax of "Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones." But I offer it as fun to listen to.

 

Quote of the day 19th March 2017


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday music spot: Telemann's Trio in A minor, Allegro


A Labour view of the Scottish Independence question

I've posted a number of views about Indyref2 from Conservative sources such as Ruth Davidson.

But belief in the UK is not the prerogative only of those on the political right.

Here is an article by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale opposing Scottish Independence from a socialist perspective. A short extract follows

"Remaining in the UK means we can pool and share the resources of our entire country to invest more in schools and hospitals, giving everybody a fair chance in life. We are better placed to look after our older people through the UK pensions system, to provide security to our nation through shared UK defence, and we can make a bigger difference in the world as part of the UK’s broad network of humanitarian efforts.

Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times as much as our trade with the EU. That secures hundreds of thousands of jobs and provides our young people with almost unlimited opportunities.

Leaving the United Kingdom would mean at least £15bn worth of cuts to our public services. That would be turbo-charged austerity."

I don't agree with Labour on much, but she's right there.

Another perspective again is from academic Chris Deerin, who argues here that

"Whoever wins this second referendum, Scotland loses."

Quite.

Up to a point, Lord Copper ...

It is often suggested that it is difficult for a supporter of Brexit to make the case for Scotland to stay in the UK.

There is certainly a degree of truth in this: many of the arguments used by Scottish Nationalists and "Yes" voters in Scotland are extremely similar to those deployed by those who campaigned to take Britain out of the EU. Sinilarly many of the arguments used by "Britain Stronger in Europe and extremely similar to those used by "Better Together.

Which is one reason I find it absolutely astonishing that the SNP's official position has until now been so resolutely anti pro-EU, even though many of their criticism of London also apply to Brussels.

If there is another Independence referendum - and I note that Theresa May is not saying that she will veto any proposal from the Scottish parliament for one, just that she will not accept one at the present very inappropriate time - I would expect the internal inconsistencies between the positions of those who are pro-Brexit but anti-Independence, and those who are pro-Independence but also pro-Remain, to be a significant problem for both sides.

However, there is in fact one major "Leave" campaign argument which, when the same test is applied to Scotland, produces an argument for "No" to Independence - at least if you are North of the Border, though I suspect people in England might see it differently.

Remember that wretched red bus with "We pay the EU £350 million per week" on the side?

Of course, Britain does not in fact pay the EU that much - it's about half that, some £8 billion a year. Nevertheless Britain is a net contributor to the EU budget.

And here's the things: Britain is a net contributor to the EU but Scotland is a net beneficiary of the UK budget.

Under present arrangements such as the Barnett formula, the UK makes a net transfer of about £1,700 per person or circa £ 9 billion a year in total to Scotland.

So a person who was merely looking at net transfers would conclude that Scotland gets a much better deal from the UK than the UK does from EU membership

Quote of the day 18th March 2017


"The clear lesson of the EU referendum is that while policy matters, economic evidence is not enough.
 
To win a referendum, economics must be matched by emotion, and statistics must be matched by sentiment.

This is doubly important in a post-trust environment – of facts and “alternative facts”. The nationalists’ cry this time will be less “devo max” and more “grievo max”: seeking to entrench a sense of “us and them”, to amplify difference and to use the Brexit vote to conflate the people of England with the politics of the Tories and Ukip.

My sense of Britishness is no more defined by Nigel Farage and Ukip than my sense of Scottishness is defined by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

I am proud to be Scottish and proud to be British – and to share what we have with our neighbours on these islands.

My Scotland embraces the idea of solidarity and the inspiration of John Smith – and stretches from Gregory’s Girl to the work of J K Rowling.

My Britain is the country of the BBC and the NHS – and stretches from Robert Burns’s “A Man’s a Man” to William Blake’s “Jerusalem”.

There are millions of Scots who still refuse to make the divisive choice between being Scottish and being British, who still believe in solidarity, in sharing and in interdependence."


(Douglas Alexander, extract from a New Statesman article called "Why sentiment, not statistics, will sway the next Scottish referendum"

Friday, March 17, 2017

The PM writes about her plan for Britain

Prime Minister Theresa May writes:

Our Plan for Britain

Conservatives
 
The EU referendum result was an instruction to change the way our country works, and the people for whom it works, forever. It was a call to make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
That’s why today I set out our Plan for Britain.
  1. A Global Britain that is outward looking
  2. A stronger economy where everyone plays by the same rules
  3. A fairer society where success is based on merit, not privilege
  4. A united nation that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home
           
Our Plan for Britain will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before. It’s a plan to get the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary working people at home.
 
So support our plan and together let’s deliver a stronger, fairer, and better Britain.
 
Thank you for your support.
 
Theresa MayPrime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party

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

As the dust settles ..

The article below was written for the Whitehaven News and published by them in a slightly shorter form earlier this week.

 
NOW WE MUST COME TOGETHER TO FIGHT FOR MATERNITY AND CHILDREN’S SERVICES
 
Following one of the most divisive by-election campaigns ever, I would like to congratulate our new MP, Trudy Harrison on her richly-deserved election. Now we all need to move forward.
 
Last week the Clinical Commissioning Group decided their response to the “Success Regime” proposals. I had hoped that they would really listen to the views of 91% of the thousands of people who responded to the consultation, and make a permanent commitment to retain consultant-led maternity at West Cumberland Hospital, while reconsidering their views for children’s services, which are needed to support the kind of maternity service our community must have.
 
The one year’s stay of execution which has been offered is an inadequate response, and our community must work together to get something better.
 
We need a concerted PR campaign to persuade medical professionals that West Cumbria is a fantastic place to live and work, explain the enhanced career opportunities which the West Cumberland Medical Education Centre provides, and the NHS must work with UCLAN to build further on those opportunities, particularly for Obstetrics and Paediatrics. Trying to persuade people to come here with another review in a year hanging over the service is not the best way to address the morale, recruitment and retention issues. This decision must be called in by the County Council and replaced with a policy which sends the clearest possible signal to NHS staff that consultant-led maternity in West Cumbria has a future.
 
A decade ago, when the last proposal to downgrade maternity at West Cumberland Hospital was put forward under a Labour government, I was the prospective Conservative candidate. Any possible defence of the divisive NHS leaflets issued by Labour during the by-election campaign must inevitably imply that I’d have been entitled to put out similar election leaflets in the 2005-10 parliament with “Labour” and “Tory” reversed. Had I done so, the very people who handed out Labour leaflets during the by-election would have screamed their heads off with outrage.  I did nothing of the kind, and despite enormous provocation from the office of our former Labour MP, attempted to work with others on a cross-party basis to support the “Save our services” and “Don’t move our mums” campaigns.
 
Following the by-election various individuals have used social media to attack the voters of Copeland for supposedly not caring about the NHS. They are ignorant of what the people of West Cumbria are really like and have missed the point. People didn’t vote as they did because they don’t care about the NHS: Labour’s health campaign was rightly regarded as extreme and overstated and therefore  was actively counterproductive.
 
Labour councillor Tim Knowles admitted in your letters page after the election that his party has a trust problem (WNH letters 2nd March). The by-election result proved that you don’t solve such a problem by delivering hysterically worded leaflets containing claims which many people know are not correct – for example, claiming that your opponents are planning to take all the beds away from a community hospital at which the success regime was and is proposing to increase them.
 
There’s an even more painful lesson for all of us who spent time on the doorstep. We all found massive disillusionment and the belief that this area has been ignored and neglected for decades. Furthermore, this is not just the responsibility of any party’s national leadership in London. Yes, Tim Knowles’ carefully coded attack on Jeremy Corbyn was justified but local politicians of all parties, and yes, independents too, also need to ask ourselves what we can do to represent this area better.
 
Trudy Harrison was elected partly because instead of offering more of the same she was putting forward a fresh, positive approach and a plan to sort out the problems of our community. Whether it is on hospital services, jobs, or infrastructure, we need to move forward as a community and achieve more for the people of this area.

Quote of the day 17th March 2017

"Nicola Sturgeon promised the 2014 referendum would be “once in a generation”, but now she has ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want another and has decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty.

"The first minister’s proposal offers Scotland the worst of all worlds. Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face. This is utterly irresponsible and has been taken by the first minister purely for partisan political reasons."

(Ruth Davidson, in an article "Sturgeon’s grounds for a new referendum have given way beneath her" which you can read in full on Times Red Box here.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unemployment falls to 12-year low

Latest ONS figures released yesterday show that unemployment in the UK has fallen for the three months to January 2017 to its lowest level since 2005 and joint lowest level since 1975.



Joblessness dropped to 4.7%, down from 4.8% a month earlier and from 5.1% in January 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The last time unemployment was this low was a period of strong economic growth in 2004 and 2005, and joblessness has not been lower since the mid-1970's.

Employment rose to a new record high of 31.85m with an extra 92,000 jobs created over the three-month period, while unemployment fell by 32,000 to 1.58m.




 
The rise in employment continues to be driven by full-time work. Meanwhile, average weekly wages grew by 2.2% over the last year.

Minister for Employment, Damian Hinds said:
"I’m delighted by another set of record-breaking figures showing more people in work than ever before and unemployment falling to its lowest in 12 years. 
Employment is up, wages are up and there are more people working full time. This is good news for hardworking families across the UK as we continue to build a country that works for everyone. 
But we have more to do, which is why we’re pressing ahead with our welfare reforms to ensure that it always pays to be in work."
Today’s figures also show:
  • there are 1.58 million unemployed people, 106,000 fewer than this time last year
  • the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds who have left full-time education and are unemployed is 5.1%
  • long-term unemployment is at 393,000 – the lowest since before the 2008 recession
  • there are around 760,000 vacancies in the economy at any one time

More details on the government website at

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/unemployment-rate-falls-to-lowest-since-2005

Second Quote of the Day 16th March 2017

"Politics stopped working normally a while ago. The Tories will probably be 23 points ahead in the next poll.

This is what happens when the leader of the opposition has the charisma of Albert Steptoe and the intellectual dexterity of a cinnamon whirl.

A prime minister’s questions in which the PM admits to a U-turn on a key policy should not end with her own side smiling and laughing.

On the Ides of March, with Julius Theresa wearing a target upon her back, the Islington Brutus plunged a dagger into his own left testicle. "

(Patrick Kidd, Parliamentary sketch, source Times/Sunday Times red box here)

Article 50 Act becomes law

The bill giving the government the power to formally start the process of withdrawal from the EU received royal assent today. It has therefore passed into law and moved from being a bill to an Act of Parliament.

This means the government can keep it's timetable and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the end of this month, starting the two-year period of negotiations which will end with the UK leaving the EU in March 2019.

Election Expenses

As I first wrote on  2nd June last year, all parties should obey the law on election expenses and should co-operate fully with the authorities if they are investigating any suggestions to the contrary.

All the major national parties have had problems with election spending, accounting, or other election practices.

In October 2016 Labour was fined £20,000 for undeclared election spending in the 2015 general election. At that time this was a record fine by the Electoral Commission. Among many things Labour had failed to declare was the so-called "Ed Stone."

In December 2016 the Lib/Dems were also fined £20,000 for undeclared election spending.

Currently UKIP are the subject of an Electoral Commission investigation to "ascertain whether the party accepted impermissible donations from the European political party the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE) and its affiliated foundation the Initiative for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE)." There may also be an investigation into the paperwork they filed during the Stoke Central by-election.

And now the Conservative party has been fined £70,000 for misreporting election spending

This is just not good enough. As I have previously written, it is not acceptable that any major party should fail to comply with the rules.

As and when the legal process is finished - in the Conservative case we are not there yet because a file has been passed to the CPS, and the UKIP investigations are ongoing - it is the responsibility for any party which is found to have acted incorrectly to review their procedures and the action of individuals to ensure that this does not happen again, which may include the need for disciplinary action against those responsible. Obviously due process should be followed before any such action to ensure it is fair and just, not a search for scapegoats.

It is also important that the rules should be clear and transparent. Since it appears that all the major national parties have got it badly wrong, there may be a case for an independent review of the spending rules to check that they are clear, fair, reasonable, as simple as possible, transparent and worded in such a way. that whether they have been kept is a matter of objective fact capable of only a single interpretation.

More nonsense on stilts from the SNP

I am still struggling to take in the sheer ludicrousness of the Scottish National Party position on whether there should be another referendum on Scottish Independence.

By the way, the SNP don't like people referring to the referendum they want to call as Indyref2. Presumably because that might remind people of the first Indyref - and the result.

In order to avoid making the SNP's chip on the shoulder any worse, we probably ought to avoid personalising this discussion and framing it in terms of personal criticism of the First Minister.

Allison Pearson's article on the Telegraph, "Here's another treacherous Queen of Scots" (that was the title in the print edition) is likely to be very entertaining for most unionists but it probably isn't in the interests of the union to further galvanise the separatists by inflaming their persecution complex.

Does the SNP have, as they claim, a mandate to call a second referendum? The position is not as clear-evident as they pretend.

Yes, the possibility of calling such a referendum was mentioned in the SNP manifesto for the 2016 Scottish parliament election. An election in which their party list share of the vote fell, with the result that the SNP lost their majority in the Scottish parliament, becoming a minority government as the largest party.

And if you look at what the SNP said before the election and in that manifesto, it's far from obvious that all their conditions to call a second Independence referendum have actually been met.





































The lack of majority support in Scottish opinion polls is only the first hole in the SNP position.

The second is that their reason for revisiting what they had described as a "once in a generation" vote is that Britain leaving the EU has changed Scotland's position - but the SNP are no longer proposing that an Independent Scotland would be a full member of the EU.

This seems to make complete nonsense on stilts of their argument for calling a new referendum in the first place. What is the logic of using the fact that you are being "dragged out of the EU" and therefore the situation has changed as the basis for trying to overturn the previous referendum unless you are proposing to try to rejoin the EU?

We will never know whether an Independent Scotland would have been allowed to rejoin the EU following a "Yes" vote in 2014 and it is far from clear whether they would be allowed to do so following a "Yes" vote in Indyref2. It's not the UK government or the English who are in a position to stop Scotland staying in or rejoining the European Union, but the other 27 member government, each of whom would have a veto.

And because several of those governments have their own separatist movements which they are determined not to encourage, there is a very substantial possibility that at least one of them - most probably Spain - would exercise such a veto.

Therefore if Scotland does vote to leave in Indyref2 there is a strong probability that the country will spend at least some time outside both the UK and EU.

Accepting this and regarding it as a good option is a logical and consistent position for the large minority of Scots for whom Independence is far more important than how well off Scotland is - after all, anyone who dislikes rule from London should find rule from Brussels even more annoying - but there are some very serious economic downsides to such a position. And we're not talking "Project Fear" but "Project Fact" in making such a point.

It looks at the moment as though the SNP may be planning to seek EFTA membership in the event of a successful campaign to leave the UK. As Iain Martin writes at Reactions here,

"The SNP’s new position appears to be this:

It is an outrage that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU! That means there must be a referendum on Scotland very soon!

Does that mean you will then seek full membership of the EU, that body you keep saying you are furious about leaving?

Er … ‎no. That will not be necessary. Something a bit like Norway – in the EEA, and EFTA – should be fine. Let’s call it the “mibbe Norway” option.

On one level this is clever, because it suggests compromise and sounds reasonably coherent. And it squares the circle. Unfortunately, in the middle of the circle is a very large hole. Scotland would break away from the UK, where 64% of Scottish exports go, and instead seek to negotiate Norway-style status while establishing a new currency."

The SNP's proposed timing for another referendum is also the height of absurdity. If you are going to hold such a vote it is essential that Scottish voters should be in a position to know what sort of terms of trade with the EU will be available to them if they vote to stay in the UK. Which means you should not hold the vote until those terms are negotiated - which may take most of the two years available. Holding the vote before Britain leaves the EU, as the First Minister proposes, would put the Scottish people in the position of buying a pig in a poke and deny them the opportunity to make an informed decision.

The last Indyref was angry and divisive and injected a large degree of poison into both Scottish and British political discourse, leaving a legacy of bitterness which is far from healed. The next one will probably be nastier.

My last quote is Hugo Rifkind in The Tmes on the uncertainty and difficulties Scotland now faces.

Quotes of the day 16th March 2017

"May I commend the Chancellor for converting a number of socialists to the benefits of lower taxation?"

(Jacob Rees Mogg MP, in the House of Commons, referring to the National Insurance U-turn)


"I normally stand at this despatch box and say I won't take any lectures from the Hon. Gentleman. When it comes to lectures on chaos, he'd be the first person I turn to."

(Prime Minister Theresa May responds to accusations of "Chaos" from Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The U-turn of March

Today is the Ides of March - the anniversary of Caesar's assassination. What got stabbed today was the government's proposals to reduce the differentials between NICs for employed and self-employed people, a policy which was dropped.

I feel rather sorry for Rory Stewart MP who was defending the policy on live TV when he was told on air about the U-turn.

A certain number of government U-turns when they realise that they cannot get a policy through are an almost inevitable consequence of a the party in power only having a small majority.

In fact, if a government has a very small majority and does not occasionally have to U-turn on things it's a bad sign, because it indicates they either have a parliamentary party consisting of robots who never argue or question, or else they are not making any attempt to deal with any really difficult issues.

If Britain had an opposition leader capable of knocking the skin off the proverbial rice pudding the PM would probably have had a difficult time at Prime Minister's questions today.

Needless to say Jeremy Corbyn let the Theresa May off the hook.

You wonder how long even the Labour party can let this go on.

Midweek Music Spot: Dance of the Savages from "Les Indes galantes" by Rameau

I have not been able to find a version of Rameau's 18th century Opera, "The Amorous Indies" with English subtitles, so here it is in the original French. It's classed as a "ballet héroïque" but I think most people other than experts on opera would call it a light-hearted romantic comedy.

This piece is nicknamed "Dance of the Savages" which is very much in the tradition of the 18th century ideal of the "noble savage." The hero and heroine of this fourth and final act of the opera are native Americans and they are the two characters who sing the duet. The hero's rivals for the love of the heroine are a Frenchman and a Spaniard.

The dance, duet and chorus is actually a celebration of peace and love - the pipe which you see in the hero's mouth represents the Pipe of Peace.



Quote of the day 15th March 2017

"The SNP's plans to impose a referendum on Independence on Scotland have unravelled within 24 hours.

"Nicola Sturgeon is demanding that people are forced to make another choice on their future in as little as 18 months. And yet faced with reasonable questions about what Independence means, she and her ministers cannot answer."

(Ruth Davidson responds to the latest SNP demand for another referendum.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Permanent housing rather than dormitories proposed

I was pleased to read that NuGen have realised that to support the Moorside new nuclear Build project West Cumbria will need more permanent housing rather than dormitories.

Speaking  at a conference this week for Local Authorities involved in new nuclear build (NNLAG),
Gary Shuttleworth, corporate affairs director for Moorside's developer NuGen, said that "creating sustainable legacy solutions" are its priority for the multi-billion-pound development planned for land next to Sellafield and its associated housing and transport links.

The firm's previously-revealed proposals for temporary student-style worker villages, earmarked for Mirehouse, Corkickle and Egremont, have rightly been criticised in some quarters.


Giving an update on NuGen's current accommodation plans, Mr Shuttleworth said that:

"Using and refurbishing social housing stock and new-build developments are integral to our plans; they could be converted from worker housing to family homes after their use.

"In this sense, people would be integrated into the community. Having temporary accommodation would miss the opportunity of integration.

"We do not want a sphere that sits outside the community. Working with social landlords and private developers, we want instead to enhance the sense of pride in the community, and communities to grow in a cohesive way."

Petition against another Scottish Referendum quickly reaches debate threshold

The following petition has very quickly passed the 10,000 signature requirement for a possible parliamentary response and at the time of writing is rapidly heading towards 100,000 signatures ...


Petition Another Scottish independence referendum should not be allowed to happen
  
"We in Scotland are fed up of persecution by the SNP leader who is solely intent on getting independence at any cost. As a result, Scotland is suffering hugely."

Readers from Scotland who wish to sign this petition can do so at

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/180642

Barriers to Trade

Let me make a terrible confession; I'm a globalist and I support free trade.

Except during unusual circumstances -  as when repealing the Corn Laws was necessary to stop people starving (and still brought down the PM who did it and split his party for 20 years) a policy of free trade is rarely popular: as Lord Macauley wrote nearly two centuries ago.



Yet the truth is that free trade is a massive creator of wealth and prosperity, as is a certain amount of free movement of people, provided you don't go to bonkers extremes (as the 1997-2010 Labour government did at certain stages of their term of office, which is why there is such strong resentment about immigration in some parts of Britain.)

The answer to those who complain that the gains from free trade are not always fairly distributed (which is often true) and that some vulnerable people lose our from free trade (also often true) is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and follow the disastrous policy which is perversely called "protection" but to make sure that a reasonable proportion of the immense net gains which a country following free trade will make are used to help those who lose out to re-skill or move and ensure that transitional help is available to communities which are badly affected.

I am not a fan of the style of journalism practiced by the Sun newspaper and when I noticed that they had published this week an article about how "There is no Brexit cliff" by Matt Ridley I was expecting it to be an overoptimistic panglossian Brexiteer fantasy about how easy the trade negotiations with the EU will be.

But I had a look at the article and found that I was doing Matt Ridley an injustice.

His article contains an excellent explanation of how silly the attitudes to trade of many journalists and politicians are and points out a very important distinction between the trade elements of the Brexit negotiations and any of the other trade deals which people have trade to negotiate with the EU.

As he points out, the difference between the Brexit negotiation and any other trade deal is that:

"It is unlike any other trade ­negotiation, because at the start there are no existing tariffs or differences in regulation and standards between Britain and the EU.

We would like to keep it that way as far as possible, and so would most European commercial interests and consumers.

We will have to discuss introducing trade barriers from scratch.

In every other case, it’s a matter of “we’ll remove tariffs and barriers to your exports if you’ll remove the barriers to ours”.

Note in passing that this is the wrong way round. Imports are what we want. Exports are what we are prepared to give to get them.

After all, we impose sanctions on evil regimes to deprive them of imports.

If we ran our lives the way ­politicians talk about trade, we would insist on giving a shopkeeper as much money as possible, then reluctantly accepting some of his goods."

Two very good points. You can read the whole article here.

Second quote of the day 14th March 2017

"If we ran our lives the way ­politicians talk about trade, we would insist on giving a shopkeeper as much money as possible, then reluctantly accepting some of his goods."

(Matt Ridley, article on trade barriers in The Sun which you can read in full here.)

Quote of the day 14th March 2017

"I must admit that as a child I got pretty cross when, once a year, Wacky Races and Scooby Doo were pulled so we could all hear Anthony Barber deliver some interminable Butskellian fudge.

hat was because in those days television for people with  he IQ of a nine-year-old lasted only from about five o'clock until quarter to six, whereas today it toes on until midnight."

(Rod Liddle on cancelling other TV programmes to fit in detailed reports on the budget)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Government given authority to trigger article 50

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly today to reverse amendments which the House of Lords has proposed to the EU Withdrawal bill, and the House of Lords then voted not to challenge the elected house again.

This means that  the EU Withdrawal Bill is likely to become law tomorrow and the government will be able to keep to the planned timetable of giving notice to leave the EU by the end of March.

Meanwhile, as the BBC put it, the SNP have got their retaliation in first by threatening to call another Independence Referendum in response to the British move to leave the EU.

Whatever happens it is going to be a momentous few weeks.