Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quote of the day 22nd October 2017

"I don't ever want to see another referendum in my lifetime."

(Kenneth Clarke, former Chancellor, in a newspaper article which you can read here, and in which he also suggested that there is "little doubt" that Britain will leave the EU and any second referendum on the terms of exit would be "folly." He added

"The political class as a whole, leaving aside eccentrics like me" ... "they've all decided that this referendum" ... "is the voice of the people."

"They did all say during the referendum that they were going to be bound by it so they do regard themselves as bound by it.")

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Music to relax after campaigning from Haydn's "The Creation"

Recitative "And God created man"

Air "In native worth"

Recitative "And God saw everything that he had made"

Chorus "Achieved is the Glorious Work"

Air "On thee each living soul awaits"

from "The Creation" by F Joseph Haydn

Campaiging in Egremont

Despite the rain we had a good turnout today for a Copeland Conservatives campaign day this morning for the Egremont South by-election with Trudy Harrison MP and the excellent Conservative  candidate in the election, Jeff Hailes

Pictures for Trafalgar day

To mark Trafalgar day and commemorate the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Royal Navy in

 * defending our nation,
 * protecting freedom over a period of hundreds of years, and
 * abolishing the slave trade,

here are four pictures by artists including Montague Dawson, Constable,  and Geoff Hunt commemorating the battle of Trafalgar 212 years ago today, and the age of fighting sail:

Quote of the day 21st October 2017 (Trafalgar Day)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Employment position improves in Cumbria

Since the Conservatives have been in government there has been a steady improvement in the numbers in work and fall in the number of people out of work throughout the country, for men and women alike, for younger and older workers alike.

Most of the increase in employment is in permanent full-time jobs.

In Cumbria the fall in the number of people claiming benefit varies from the significant - 10% in Workington - to the dramatic - 55% in Westmorland and Lonsdale. Here are the figures by constituency:

Friday music spot: "Awake us, Lord, and hasten" (Bach)

Egremont Bridge re-opens

Pleased to learn that the Egremont Bridge is open again.

I think we need to learn a few lessons from the events of the past few days but this is good news.

Quote of the day 20th October 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Antisemitism barometer

For decades many people thought that antisemitism had been so throroughly discredited by the crimes of the Nazis that it was no longer a serious problem.

Unfortunately, as Andrew Neil pointed out in his powerful speech on Monday which you can watch or read by clicking on the links in a post on this blog yesterday, that view may or may not have been justified in the immediate aftermath of World War II but it is not true today. The great majority of the British people firmly reject racism in all its forms including antisemitism, but this pernicious form of racism still exists and needs to be challenged and fought against more vigorously than is sometimes the case.

Following on from that post, here is a graphic showing the results of a YouGov survey of 2058 British Jews, commissioned by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) in which they were asked to what extent the main political parties in Britain harbour antisemites among their MPs, members and supporters.

Even the party which comes best out of this - the Conservative party with "only" 19% of Jewish people thinking that the party's MPs, members and supporters include antisemites - cannot possibly be satisfied or complacent that nearly a fifth of Jewish people in the survey held that opinion.

For the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP those figures are significantly worse.

But every decent member of the Labour party should hang their head in shame at the finding that no less than 83% of British Jews surveyed felt that the Labour party includes antisemites among it's MPs, members and supporters.

Blaming the media, which is the default Momentum response to any embarrassing criticism, just will not cut it in this case.

Here is a link to a page on the "Campaign against Antisemitism" website in which they discuss the responses of all the main political parties to questions the campaign had asked them and complaints the organisation has made.

And here is a link to the research supporting the "barometer" referred to above.

I don't believe that any reasonably fair-minded person of average or above average intelligence can read this data without concluding that all Britain's political parties need to do more and the Labour party has a serious problem.

£2.5 million road improvements in Bransty

The government has announced that it will put £1.67 of taxpayer funding from the National Infrastructure Productivity Fund into the "North Shore Access Project" to improve the safety and people movement at the Bransty Road junction area of Whitehaven. An additional £0.8 million will come from the Energy Coast, delivering a total of £2.5 million of investment.

This represents the approval of a bid from Cumbria County Council for junction and pedestrian improvements aimed at getting better access and road safety between the South end of Bransty Hill, the railway station, Tescos, and the North Shore area.

You can read details of the CCC bid which the Department of Transport has now approved at 

Quote of the day 19th October 2017

"Philip Hammond understands the Government’s job better than anyone in the cabinet. Sacking him wouldn’t just be bad for Britain; it’d be bad for Brexit. And I say that as someone who is glad Britain is leaving the European Union."

"Why are his critics’ attacks so incoherent? The answer is simple: they are wrong and Hammond is right. Not right because we are all doomed because of Brexit. Not right because he wants Brexit to fail. But right because he realises it’s complicated."

"There will be plenty of opportunities for Britain once we leave the European Union but untangling ourselves is a thorny process involving a high degree of uncertainty. It is upt to the Government to manage that uncertainty."

"Hammond is being attacked for doing his job. He is not the first Chancellor to face accusations from his own side that his tightfistedness is all that stands between the country and the sunlit uplands. And he will not be the last."

(Oliver Wiseman, extracts from an article on CAPX about Chancellor Philip Hammond which you can read here.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Has political argument in Britain stopped?

I don't necessarily agree with every word of Nick Cohen's article,

Political Argument in Britain has stopped when we need it most,

but I do think his basic point that we have become much more tribal in our thinking and that this is potentially damaging to Britain has a lot of truth in it.

You can see it, for example. in the fury which greeted both the Prime Minister and her deputy when both in their different ways refused to recant of having voted Remain or provide the pro-Brexit side with the answer they wanted to hear, that they would now vote to Leave the EU.

Incidentally, of those of my friends who voted Remain,  a larger proportion than I would have expected do think they would now vote Leave. and I respect their view as I respect the decision of the electorate, but I have no regrets whatsoever about having voted Remain myself.

The attempt from some people to almost bully people who voted Remain into saying they have changed their mind - as opposed to saying that they will obey the majority decision, which is not the same thing - has been something between weird and frightening.

The demands for Philip Hammond to resign or be sacked for trying to find pragmatic ways to make Brexit work are far more than frightening. At the risk of annoying some of my ppro-Brexit friends, IMHO if Theresa May were to listen to those who are trying to persuade her to sack Hammond the  the words of Euripedes would come to be seen as a prophecy about her government:

And I think Nick Cohen is right on the money when he says that the possiblity of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister makes it all the more important that those people on the left who can see the serious problems with the Corbyn faction of the Labour party and the way they operate should not be afraid to speak up and oppose them.

We are living in politically dangerous times and failing to debate the issues of the time or falling neatly into mental silos is not the way to navigate through those dangers.

Unemployment falls again

The latest jobs figures from the Office of National Statistics are out today and show continued improvement.

Estimates from the Labour Force Survey show that, between March to May 2017 and June to August 2017, the number of people in work increased, the number of unemployed people fell, and the number of people aged from 16 to 64 not working and not seeking or available to work also fell.

There were 32.10 million people in work, 94,000 more than for March to May 2017 and 317,000 more than for a year earlier.

The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.1%, up from 74.5% for a year earlier.

There were 1.44 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 52,000 fewer than for March to May 2017 and 215,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

The unemployment rate was 4.3%, down from 5.0% for a year earlier and the joint lowest since 1975.

Andrew Neil lays into left-wing antisemitism

Andrew Neil made a very powerful speech on Monday at the Holocaust Educational Trust appeal dinner about the rise of antisemitism, particularly on the left.

Neil argued that antisemitism on the political right is - rightly - called out and condemned but antisemitism on the left is all too often tolerated. He said:

"I don’t say that the antisemitism of the left is entirely new. Those of you who know your history of Soviet Russia will know that it is not new, that there is a strain of antisemitism that has always run through parts of the British intellectual left. But I believe that it is more prevalent, that it is on the rise, and that it is given far too easy a pass. It gets away with it in the way that the antisemitism of the far right is not allowed to get away with it."

Needless to say his comments have been rubbished by the Momentum trolls but Labour MP Wes Streeting, to his credit, responded that Andrew Neil's comments had been painful to listen to

"Not because it was harsh, but because it was fair."

You can read the text of Andrew Neil's speech here.

Quote of the day 18th October 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Fall of DA'ESH

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)  claimed today to have captured Raqqa, Raqqa, the capital of the self-styled "Islamic State" caliphate known to most people in the Middle East as DA'ESH.

A US military spokesman confirmed that about 90% of the city had been cleared. This morning the SDF cleared the last two major IS positions in Raqqa - the municipal stadium and the National Hospital.

Islamic State (IS) made Raqqa the headquarters of its self-styled "caliphate" in early 2014, implementing an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and imposing savage punishments on anyone who opposed it or who they considered un-Islamic including beheading, crucifixion, torture, or throwing gay people off the roofs of five-storey buildings.

The city also became the base for thousands of jihadists from around the world who heeded a call to migrate there by DA'ESH leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The SDF was formed by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia two years ago along with a number of smaller, Arab factions. It says it is not aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the rebels seeking to overthrow him.

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (16 October 2017)

With the help of US-led coalition air strikes, weapons and special forces, SDF fighters have driven IS out of more than 8,000 sq km (3,100 sq miles) of territory. Last November, they began a major operation to capture Raqqa. They slowly encircled the city before breaking through IS defences on the outskirts in June.

For DA'ESH to be able to claim to be a Caliphate one of the requirements was to control territory. While they dominated a significant part of both Syria and Iraq including the cities of Raqqa and Mosul that claim was plausible. With the defeat of DA'ESH forces in both these cities, coalition forces are close to reaching the point where even the most reality-proof jihadist will be unable to sustain the idea that this blood-soaked death cult can make that claim.

The price, however has been terrible There has been a "staggering loss of civilian life" in Raqqa, according to UN war crimes investigators. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported on Tuesday that at least 3,250 people had been killed in the past five months, among them 1,130 civilians. Hundreds more were missing and might be buried under destroyed buildings, they said.

I hope the rest of the world can help the people of Iraq and Syria to rebuild and that those who have joined together to defeat the evil of DA'ESH can resist the temptation to turn their guns on one another. The omens in Iraq are not good.

We most also recognise that while the defeat of DA'ESH is a huge blow to Islamist terrorism, it will not eliminate the threat of murderous Jihadist nutcases like the ones who have killed and maimed innocent people all over the world, from  Manchester to Mogadishu.
I have seen the following quote variously attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Wendell Phillips and Desmond Tutu. Perhaps all of them said something of the sort. But I understand that it originated with John Philpot Curran:

Of storms, bridges, and Parish Councils

I attended St Bees Parish Council last night and Egremont Town Council this evening.

Both raised concerns about how the impact on Cumbria's roads of the recent storms has been handled.

There are a lot of conference calls and discussions between atgencies about how to deal with the disruption which storms and flooding have caused. A lot of people have been working very hard and I do not want to disparage their efforts.

Equally there are some lessons we need to learn. I will argue that when there is time to do so we need to have a review about how well the agencies communicated with one another and the public. The point has been made to me that there may have been some failings in this respect.

Particular concern has been expressed about the failure to communicate adequately with the public about the closure of the bridge in Egremont and to put in place and publicise alternative travel arrangements.

Closing the bridge may well have been the right thing to do but we need to make sure there are appropriate alternative routes and arrangements in place and they are properly communicated and concerns were expressed to me at Egremont TC tonight that this is simply not happening.

People have ended up walking round on the A595 which is not safe.

I will be taking the matter up with county officers.

Quote of the day 17th October 2017

This quote seemed like an appropriate follow-on to my post last night about the evolution, or lack thereof, of human intelligence ...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is the film "Idiocracy" coming true?

The 2006 comedy film "Idiocracy" made the projection, intended as a joke, that because people of high intelligence supposedly tend to have only a small number of children while people of low intelligence supposedly tend to have lots, there would tend to be a catastrophic fall in intelligence.

In the film Luke Wilson plays Private Joe Bauers, a contemporary US soldier of perfectly average intelligence for the early 21st century who is selected for a suspended animation trial and accidentally put to sleep for five centuries instead of the one year period intended. He wakes to find a population consisting entirely of morons and that he is now far and away the most intelligent man in the world.

I had never taken the film too seriously, not least because intelligence is the product of a whole host of factors and not just genetics, and I don't take things reported in the Daily Mail as always being correct either, but I must confess that their article this week

"Are we becoming more stupid ?"

quoting research which suggests that average IQ levels in several western countries have dropped, did ring alarm bells.

The article referenced a more detailed and nuanced article in New Scientist manazine by Bob Holmes,

"Brain Drain: Are we evolving stupidity?"

The article begins by recording evidence that for at least a century average intelligence was increasing in a number of countries including the UK, Australia and Demnark. The fastest rise was recorded in Denmark  between 1950 and about 1998 where average IQ scores for comparable age cohorts of young men were rising by as much as three IQ points per decade.

Unfortunately the same evidence suggests that that the rise seems to have peaked at or just before the turn of the millenium and since then average intelligene as measured by IQ tests (which are not, of course, a perfect measure) may even have dropped slightly.

There are suggestions that the increase in average intelligence during the 20th century was due to better nutrition, living conditions and education: this is sometimes called the "Flynn Effect" after Professor James Flynn of the University of Otago. There is a suggestion that we have reached the limits of the Flynn effect and that average intelligence has been pushed down either by a less intellectually stretching culture or by genetic effects.

It would be very easy at this point to make faux-clever responses along the lines of

"well of course people are getting more stupid, how else do you explain the election of  (insert name of your least favourite politician here)"

Actually that would be a classic "dumbed down" response. This is a more serious and more long-term potential  problem, if the data are right, than the election of one generation of witless politicians.

I think we should be very careful to avoid jumping to conclusions about what is really happening to intelligence and why, but I must confess to being concerned about the evidence that we are not, as a civilisation, maintaining the progress in brain power that we were previously making.

Perhaps both as iondividuals and as a society we should be thinking about what we can do to stretch our minds more.

Apparently scientists cannot confirm whether we are living in a simulation after all

A few days ago I posted about an article in "Science Advances" which had been taken by the media as evidence that we are not living in some giant computer simulation like the one in "The Matrix."

However, the authors of the original paper,  Zohar Ringel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and Dmitry Kovrizhin at the University of Oxford told New Scientist they are a bit taken aback at the conclusions the media ad drawn from their work.

There are people on both ends of the spectrum - those who think it is unlikely that we are living in some kind of computer simulation and, surprisingly, one or two like technology mogul Elon Musk who think that there is only a billion-to-one chance that we actually live in reality and that it is more likely that we are merely data circling inside someone’s supercomputer.

However, the scientific consensus as reported by the New Scientist is that we cannot possibly know whether or not our universe is a simulation unless the model has blatant flaws like the ones Nardole and Bill discovered in "Doctor Who."

The New Scientist article quotes Marcelo Gleiser at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire as saying that

“To me, both the ‘are we living in a simulation’ question and any response to it based on current computer knowledge is silly.”

Gleiser argues that point: trying to answer these questions based on our current knowledge and machines is inevitably based on unreliable assumptions. As the article points out,

Quantum computers – if and when they become truly operational – may be much more versatile than we can imagine at this point. If we were in a simulation, humans would have little idea of what the laws of physics in the outside “real world” were like, whether quantum mechanics ruled, and what kind of computation was possible outside the bounds of our simulation.

So we're back to square one - until and unless we find a flaw in the Universe which can only be explained by its' being a simulation rather than real, we have no way of answering the question.

What the IMF really said:

For some perverse reason both the Daily Mail and the Guardian wrote up a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report as supportive of the Labour party's policy of increasing tax rates.

Both took a quote from the IMF's fiscal monitor which did indeed read as follows
"there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution."
and those newspapers took that as encouraging a rise in tax rates in Britain. Actually that is NOT what the report says.

The quote above refers to OECD countries as a whole, and is NOT specifically aimed at Britain. The report goes on to suggest that
"Assuming a welfare weight of zero for the very rich, the optimal marginal income tax rate can be calculated as 44 percent."
and compares this with the average top tax income tax band in the OECD of 35%. So there is scope for those countries whose top rate of income taxes is in that area to increase it.

But this is not the case in Britain.

As we all know that extreme right winger George Osborne cut the top rate of income tax in Britain a few years ago from ...

50% to 45%.

That's right, after the Osborne top rate tax cut (which appears to have cost the UK exchequer a big fat zero in lost tax revenue), the top rate of income tax in Britain of 45% is currently one percentage point ABOVE what the IMF recommends as the optimum rate.

So they are not recommending tax increases in Britain at all.

Once you increase taxes above a certain level, you don't bring in any more revenue as people start doing things like employing creative accountants, moving money overseas, or not bothering to work as hard. There is some scope for argument about what rate of tax brings in the most money but I have always suspected that it is somewhere in the decile from 40% to 49% and definitely below 50%. The IMF figure of 44%, if perhaps quoted with spurious precision, sounds about right to me.

People just will not regard it as fair, or work as hard, if you take away half or more of every extra pound they earn.

As the Economist magazine explains in further detail in an article called taxing the rich,

"So not really support for Mr Corbyn at all."

Quote of the day 16th October 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On cross-party friendships

There is a marvellous article in today's Observer which you can read here about five cross-party friendships at Westminster.

Getting anything done in politics often requires people to work across party boundaries. It is really important for the functioning of democracy that we do not regard people who don't share all our opinions as enemies.

I found the article immensely cheering that in these partisan times ten MPs and peers were willing to talk to a journalist about their friendship with someone on the other side of the house.

Sometimes there IS smoke without fire.

This is an updated version of a post first made four years ago.
Frequently when a nasty story is circulating about someone, or when the police have decided to investigate an allegation - as it is their duty to do if there is anything resembling evidence that it might be true - someone makes the comment that "there's no smoke without fire."

This is of course a very old saying. My experience from more than thirty years in active politics is that this particular saying is not true. 
Sometimes there really is smoke without fire, especially when it is in someone else's interests that there should be. Certain very widely believed stories are actually clever propaganda planted by the enemies of the people they are about.

Evidence against the theory that "there's no smoke without fire" goes back a long time. Although the Emperor Nero was undoubtedly one of the most evil rulers in history, many historians believe that he was actually innocent of the best known crime for which he is remembered - singing an aria as he watched the city of Rome burning. (He was certainly innocent of the allegation in the form in which it was most often quoted when I was a boy, of fiddling while Rome burned - the violin had not been invented in Nero's time.)

Nero murdered his mother after committing incest with her, murdered his wives, attempted to stamp out the Christian faith my torturing Christians to death in the area, and was responsible for the deaths of a very large number of innocent people. But he wasn't in Rome when the infamous fire broke out, and hurried back to the city to personally lead the firefighting efforts.
It would appear that the reason Nero was blamed for the fire is that one of his many enemies - probably a friend or relative of one of the many people he had put to death - cast the accusation that Nero had started the fire so that he could rebuild Rome in the style that he fancied.
This was a masterly allegation because it exactly played into the preconceptions many Romans already had of Nero, which based on his past behaviour was highly plausible. The Italians have a saying for this, "Si non e vero, e ben trovato" or "If it's not true, it's well invented."

The trouble is that the most effective slanders often ARE well invented - especially if they are muttered anonymously so that the victims of lies can't go to court and crush them by providing proof that they are false.

In one instance I know of a set of lies which was widely believed about a former cabinet minister,  and I know exactly where those lies came from. But for complicated reasons, the lies concerned never made it into print.

A very good friend of mine who was a Conservative branch chairman in the cabinet minister's constituency, happened to live next door to a senior activist of another political party. And that activist was unwise enough to discuss on his porch, not realising that he could be overheard from next door, their plans to undermine the minister concerned by spreading the lie that he was having a gay affair with another cabinet minister.

This particular lie never appeared in a political leaflet, it was spread by word of mouth. But within a few months we started picking it up, both on the doorstep and in London. Some looney who was probably acting on his own started distributing anonymous leaflets with an even worse version of the story, that the minister was supposedly dying of AIDS. The Conservative party had to spend some time during the following general election trying to keep this poisonous rubbish out of the press. Fortunately the journalists who became aware of it, either because they had some integrity and realised the story was rubbish or because they were afraid of being sued, declined to use it.

I have reason to believe that during that General Election there was a kind of "Mexican stand off" between the Conservative and Labour parties and their allies in the press. One newspaper allied to the Labour party had front page ready to go with this story about the Conservative minister, while a paper allied to the Conservatives had a front page ready to go with an equally foul story about a very prominent Labour front bencher. If either story had been published the other would have come out the following day. Fortunately nobody was daft enough to start this particular exchange. If they had, the party which would have benefitted would most probably have been a third political party, which, funnily enough, happens to be the very party whose activists invented the first story in the beginning.

Even if I hadn't known where the first story came from, I would be convinced there was no truth in either. The former minister who was supposedly dying of aids is still alive and well, was active in parliament until this year's general election, and still writes on Conservative Home and in the press. And the story about the Labour frontbencher must have been a pack of lies as well, because if there had been any genuine victims or a scrap of evidence someone would surely have taken it to Operation Midland or one of the other inquiries which have taken place following the Jimmy Saville scandal.

Unfortunately it is my impression that over the following twenty years, standards of accuracy, integrity and judgement in some sections of the media have fallen catastrophically below what was displayed at that time. You only need compare the good judgement shown by journalists in the nineties who refrained from a scoop which might have destroyed careers and lives at the price of printing what were probably filthy lies, with some of what came out during the Leveson inquiry and the ghastly mess the BBC got themselves into over sex abuse allegations.

When there is a story in the press about something supposedly said or done by a politician, we would be well advised to be aware of the possibility that it is the result of a misunderstanding, something misheard, or worst of all, a deliberate lie invented by someone with an agenda which would be served by discrediting the person the story is about.

We saw this with "Plebgate" where the former Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell MP, was accused in the media of having called a police officer a "pleb."  He was forced to resign.

There is no absolute proof who was telling the truth about what was said, and making sense of the different and apparently contradictory outcomes of the criminal trial of a police officer who pleaded guilty to lying about the incident, disciplinary hearings involving several other officers, and the legal action which Mitchell brought against News Group Newspapers (e.g. the Sun) is next to impossible.

What is not in dispute, however, is that there was an attempt to discredit him.

CCTV footage released after his resignation did prove that Mitchell's account of the incident was closer to the truth than accounts in the newspapers, supposedly taken from a police log.  I stress that this does not prove that the police officers directly involved in the incident told any lies and am not making any criticism of those officers.

Although Andrew Mitchell ultimately lost the libel case which he brought against News Group Newspapers because of a decision made on what the judge described as "the balance of probabilities," he was not the only person to lose his job over the affair: several police officers not directly involved in the original incident were found to have acted unprofessionally, been sacked or even in one case jailed, for making misleading comments or lying about the "plebgate" incident.

One officer was convicted of criminal misconduct and sentenced to twelve months in prison after he pleaded guilty to lying about the incident. Another officer, who was at the time a regional official of the Police Federation, was found guilty of misconduct and breaching professional standards by giving "misleading" accounts to the press of a meeting with Mr Mitchell. And including the officer who was jailed, four police officers were sacked for misconduct for offences such as giving "inaccurate and misleading statements" in connection with the affair.

In other words, whatever the truth of "Plebgate," no fewer than five people from whom society was entitled to expect a high standard of integrity were jailed, sacked or censured for attempting untruthfully to discredit Andrew Mitchell in the press or cover up the actions of others who did.

I have more than a few friends who are serving or former police officers. All of them are people of integrity as I believe that the vast majority of police officers are. But the events of the past few years has proven the existence of a toxic relationship between a minority of police officers and certain newspapers which has been highly damaging both to the cause of justice and to the reputation of both the press and the police.

Which brings me to the present and various allegations of child abuse being investigated by the police.

There have been too many cases in the past where true allegations of rape and child sexual abuse were not taken seriously enough. In what is probably the worst case, in Rochdale, this allowed more than 1,400 children, mostly girls aged between 11 and 15, to be raped or abused.

We must not make that kind of mistake again, therefore any such allegations must be taken seriously and properly and conscientiously investigated if there is any material chance that they are true.

Equally, the principle that an accused person is "innocent until proven guilty" has served the cause of justice well for centuries. Just as we should not assume without due investigation that allegations are false, neither should we assume that allegations are true just because the police are doing their job by investigating them. And neither the police officers leading an investigation nor anybody else should pre-judge whether an allegation is true or false before they have completed that investigation.

It ought to be possible to ensure that all such allegations are properly investigated without  putting the innocent through something which feels horribly close to a Salem witch trial. Unfortunately some recent investigations and their reporting in the media have conveyed precisely that impression.

And hence I repeat - sometimes there IS smoke without fire.

Highways working group cancelled tomorrow

There would have been a meeting of Cumbria County Council's Copeland Highways Working Group tomorrow morning, but it has been cancelled or hopefully postponed as the officers who would have been supporting it are busy on flood relief work.

I am sure this was the right decision. Hopefully they will be able to get action completed quickly on the flood damage of recent weeks and then we can get on with highways improvement work, but there is no point having a meeting to discuss new schemes and improvements when the network you have at the moment needs fixing.

If you have been flooded ...

A number of properties in Cumbria have been flooded over the past few weeks.

If you live in Cumbria and you are affected by floods here is the web page on which you can report it to get help and to help the authority plan for dealing with flood issues:

Sunday music spot: Henry Purcell's "Music for a while"

Comeback of the week

It probably was not wise for Hillary Clinton to be quoted saying

"We elected someone who committed sexual assault to be President."

Ian Dale (@IainDale) was among those who came back with comments like

"Yes. In 1992."

Tweet of the Week

My favourite tweet this week consisted of the image below of a pot and kettle, accompanied by a caption along the following lines:

"Jeremy Corbyn accusing the government of not having a clear policy on Europe."

Quote of the day 15th October 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Second Saturday Music spot: Steeleye Span "Let her go down"

Saturday music spot: Bach's First Brandenburg Concerto

Quotes of the day 14th October 2017

"To avert a revolution, we need a small victorious war.”

(Vyacheslav von Plehve on Russia's position at the start of the 20th century. They ended up with the Russo-Japanese war which was neither small nor victorious and actually caused a revolt.)

"The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."

(Robert Wilson Lynd)

"Nearly all the belligerents in 1914 believed they would be fighting a short war, until they found they weren’t."

(The Economist, review of Lawrence Freedman's book "The Future of War: A History" which explores how countries fallen for that dangerous, seductive and astonishingly enduring myth  of thinking they can benefit from a "Short Victorious War.")

You can read the review here. It concludes as follows:

"The one thing that Sir Lawrence is sure of is that predictions of future war rarely get it right. His message to policymakers is to beware those who tout “the ease and speed with which victory can be achieved while underestimating the resourcefulness of adversaries”. Anybody who thinks otherwise should read this book."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Living wage success continued

Further to yesterday's post ...

Quote of the day 13th October 2017

“This is an abuse issue, not a cultural issue.”

Zac Goldsmith MP, co-chair of the parliamentary group on FGM, speaking about the need to ensure that this practice is wiped out by 2030.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Abolish FGM by 2030

Female Genital Mutilation is a vile practice which ought to be stamped out.

There is a long way to go, and it is infuriating that Britain has yet to mount a successful prosecution for this vile practice, but the number of women and girls who are victims of this disgusting crime is falling around the world.

Anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali said this week that she believes that eradicating it completely is now possible in our lifetime.

Ms Ali spole out on Tuesday to mark the UN’s International Day of the Girl. The event shines a spotlight on the Global Goals, which include a commitment to end FGM by 2030.

World leaders signed up to the goals in 2015 and on Tuesday the #FreedomForGirls campaign aimed to remind everyone of the promises that were made then, to ensure the goals are met. To mark the occasion, a new Global Goals film featuring BeyoncĂ©’s song Freedom was released on the Google homepage.

Also on Tuesday the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FGM was relaunched, co-chaired by Labour’s Jess Phillips and Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.

It includes parliamentarians as diverse as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan, Caroline Lucas and Tulip Siddiq.

“There is no dispute that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with once and for all. It’s an appalling issue to think about,” said co-chairman Zac Goldsmith.


Living Wage helps hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers

A think tank, the Resolution Foundation, has published a report suggesting that the National Living Wage introduced by George Osborne when he was chancellor has lifted 300,000 British workers out of their measure of low pay, defined as less than two-thirds the median hourly wage. The share of workers on low pay as so defined has fallen below 20% for the first time since the 1980s.

The Resolution Foundation, added that this is the biggest year-on-year fall in low pay since 1977 - with its report claiming the national living wage has not been the "jobs-killing disaster" some feared.

Many people - including myself - would once have shared that fear, but it difficult to dispute the Resolution Foundation's conclusion on this point given that the number of people in work in Britain is at an all time high and unemployment rates are at a 42-year low.

A Government spokesman commented that

"The national living wage has delivered the fastest pay rise for the lowest earners in 20 years and they will continue to see their pay go up, with the rate set to increase to 60% of median earnings by 2020.

"But we want to go further by creating good quality jobs for all through our modern Industrial Strategy, boosting earning power and improving living standards across the country."

I would once have been strongly opposed to this policy and it is worth explaining why I have changed my mind.

In a pure free-market economy, which does not exist anywhere and never has, introducing a legal floor to wages at above the rate currently paid to the lowest-paid workers would inevitably create unemployment by increasing the number of hours people want to work while reducing the number of hours of employment which it is profitable for employers to offer.

I have never discussed the issue with a reasonably good knowledge of business and economics who does not think that in the real world too, if you increase such a wage floor above a certain level, it will begin to destroy jobs.

However, the interesting thing is that both when Labour introduced the original minimum wage under Tony Blair, and when the Conservatives increased it with the National Living Wage (NLW) under Cameron and Osborne, this did not happen.

As I wrote above, the introduction of the National Living Wage has proved perfectly compatible with the highest levels of employment ever recorded in Britain.

Two observations about why this may have been possible.

We're not living in a perfect free market, in particular Britain has a welfare state which pays unemployment benefit and other forms of financial support to people who do not have a job. By introducing the Minimum wage and then the NLW, governments have restored some of the incentive to work which the existence of the welfare state has reduced.

It is entirely plausible, both in theory and in practice, that in an economy like modern Britain with a welfare state, a moderate wage floor can have a positive impact on employment by restoring the incentives of low-paid workers to find employment which exceeds the negative impact of reducing the number of jobs.

That it what I believe that NLW has so far done.

However, there is a limit to this. Any wage floor whether it take the form of the old Minimum Wage or a system like the NLW must be set by people who have taken into account the impact on employers.

If there were to be a competitive auction between the political parties in an election to see who could promise the highest wages, there would be a serious danger that it could end up being set at a level which really did destroy thousands if not millions of jobs.

Effectively the people who predicted that the NLW would destroy jobs were crying "wolf" this time: the policy has helped people out of poverty without preventing record employment and therefore has to be judged a success at present levels.

The thing is, there really is a wolf.

There would come a level for the NLW at which the people who are crying 'wolf' would be right. The challenge is to ensure that it is set at a level which is high enough to give Britain the pay rise which so many people need and deserve, but not high enough to kill significant numbers of jobs.

Quote of the day 12th October 2017

The expression "May you live in interesting times" has been described for as long as the phrase has been in circulation as being a Chinese curse, but interestingly nobody has been successful in tracing a confirmed account of this saying as a curse either to Confucius, to whom it is often attributed, nor to any other authentic Chinese source.

In fact the first confirmed use of the expression, from a speech about the problems faced by Britain and the world in the mid-1930's from the brother of the man who was about to become Prime Minister, is this one.

An account of efforts to trace the origins of the expression can be found here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The heavens open ...

Just arrived back in Cumbria after a trip to London in which heavy rain has disrupted both our journey to the capital and back and many roads and schools throughout Cumbria.

Two of the many road closures in Cumbria - at Dalziel Street in Moor Row and a section of High House Road between St Bees and the A595 - were in my division.

Some parts of Cumbria saw more than 8ins (206mm) of rain fall in less than 24 hours, according to provisional figures from the Environment Agency.

Honister, Seathwaite and Ennerdale were the worst hit areas as torrential downpours closed schools and disrupted road and rail travel.

The Environment agency issued 19 flood alerts and eight flood warnings, while a Met Office yellow warning for rain was in place for much of Wednesday.

On the positive side no serious injuries were reported as a result of any of the problems in Cumbria.

Action to protect the envoronment

Quote of the day 11th October 2017

Monday, October 09, 2017

The "Goodbye Lenin" delusion

I quite enjoyed the 2003 comedy film "Goodbye Lenin," about a mother, a staunch communist who went into a coma before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and came out of it after the collapse of communism, and whose son devises an increasingly elaborate deception to spare her from the shock of learning that the system she supported has completely collapsed.

Because the film is quite scathing (e.g. realistic) about the failings of Eastern European communism as it actually was, I must confess that did not see it as particularly defending socialism - certainly not socialism in the DDR as it operated in practice. But  Dr Kristian Niemietz has an interesting article on the IEA website about the film, which is called

"The Goodbye Lenin delusion,"

in which he argues that there is an underlying assumption that socialism is a noble ideal and that East Germany could have been a much better place had the noble ideals it was based on only been put into practice, and that many of those who defend socialism in the real world subscribe to a similar idea, but in practice socialist societies never work, because people do not like being told what to do and what choices they should make with their lives.

Capitalism is not perfect but every rich and successful country in the world has a strong and vibrant economy based on wealth created by the private sector.

Hard-left socialist policies have been tried in lots of countries and they have never once produced the sort of worker's paradise which Alex imagines in the film.

There is no such thing as a pure free market or pure socialist society, but many of the societies which have been closest to a pure free market economy have been highly successful, and every one of the societies which has been closes to pure socialism has been at best an economic basket case and at worst a mass-murdering tyranny.

As was recently pointed out,

"Socialism would never have created the iPhone."

Innovation is a feature of free and open societies.

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

I attended the Cumbria Health Scrutiny committee meeting today.

The full agenda and papers for the meeting can be found here.

We have not yet heard the outcome of Jeremy Hunt's reference of the committee's call-in of maternity services to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. (IRP) I know Trudy Harrison MP is among those pressing for a resolution of this.

But there was a clear and, in my opinion helpful, response from the North Cumbria NHS Clinical Commissioning Group when members of the committee - quite reasonably - requested assurances that work by the local NHS will not prejudice or be biased against the option which local people support, to maintain consultant-led maternity services at both Carlisle and at West Cumberland Hospital.

Peter Rooney, who is the Chief Operating Officer of NHS North Cumbria CCG (the statutory body with responsibility for deciding what services will be provided in North, West and East Cumbrai) said very clearly that the aim of the CCG is to maintain a consultant-led maternity unit at West Cumberland Hospital in safe and sustainable manner.

It is of course right that bodies like the Health Scrutiny Committee and Healthwatch should challenge the CCG and the Cumbria NHS on how they are meeting aims like that, and I am neither criticising those who ask questions on the subject or suggesting that we should be complacent. On the contrary for people to state frequently how much we need and depend on these services is helpful.

Nevertheless, it is also important to recognise when positive responses are given and I thought the answers given today were useful and positive.

Clearly when the IRP recommendation and Jeremy Hunt's response are published we will have to look at them very carefully but the key task is to work with the local NHS to ensure we get the best service for patients.

There was a lot of positive material presented today about "working together" (known in the current jargon as "co-production.") Unfortunately a lot of it was couched in the sort of jargon, littered with acronyms and works like "novation" which is not well presented for most of the public to understand. This is something we need to work on.

So here is a bit of plain English - the Working Together group which brings together NHS leaders and staff and patient interests to talk about how we can improve the service is holding its next meeting this Thursday (12th October) at Lakes College from 6pm to 8pm and it is open to the public.

Quote of the day 9th October 2017

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Adam Smith Institute on the Productivity Problem

Those who have known me for a long time will be aware that I have not always seen eye to eye with the Adam Smith Institute.

However, I agree with a great deal of a paper by Sam Bowman's on the ASI website,

"It's the productivity stupid."

Sam starts with the same horrifying graph showing UK productivity flatlining under governments containing ministers from all the main parties over the past ten years which I reproduced in my own post this week on the subject and concludes that most of the main problems in British politics are down to our poor productivity performance.

He agrees with Theresa May that fixing the broken housing market is probably the most urgent aspect of this and Sam has a number of suggestions about how to do so, including reducing or abolishing stamp duty land tax.

Cutting corporation tax will generally provide more incentives for investment, but Sam points out the importance of appropriate allowances allowing businesses to offset investment against corporation tax. I hope Phillip Hammond takes this point on board.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking section of the paper is the one where Sam admits that ASI thinking is still developing and argues that nobody really understands well enough what we can do to promote more innovation.

Asking why British firms do not innovate more, he goes on to write

"It might be because our approach to regulation is excessively cautious, especially in areas dominated by the state such as healthcareMark Lutter’s paper from earlier this year outlined how we might make it much easier to use medicines and instruments approved for use abroad in the UK and encourage more innovation domestically. Regulatorysandboxesand explicit rules that preserved permissionless innovation would help here too." The issue of sluggish productivity growth deserves more attention than it is getting from politicians over the entire political spectrum and from the media. It is vital for the future of the country that we do better.

Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee

The Health Scrutiny committee for Cumbria meets tomorrow (Monday 9th October) at 10.30 am in Cumbria House, Botchergate, Carlisle.

This committee has responsibility for monitoring the performance of the NHS in Cumbria on behald of the public. It is managed by Cumbria county council and consists of seven county councillors (of whom I am one) and a councillor from each of the six district councils in the county,

Tomorrow's meeting is open to the public.

The full agenda and supporting documents can all be found on the County Council website here.

Key issues in the agenda include:
A presentation from Healthwatch Cumbria.
This will include a report on Participation, Inclusion and Engagement.
       (Appendices to this report can be found by following these links:

Sunday music spot: Sanctus from Mozart's mass in D Major

This is the Sanctus from Mozart's "Missa Brevis" (short mass) in D major.
The words mean

"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory,
Hosanna in the Highest!"

Quote of the day 8th October 2017

A few days ago - on September 21st - someone tweeted that "on this day in 1780 Benedict Arnold committed treason."

I replied "Or stopped committing treason depending on your perspective."

Which reminded me of this quote from John Harrington which points out that, effectively, treason is all too often about whether you are on the winning side ...

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Fear and Loathing in London and Holland

During the EU referendum I published a number of "Worst of both worlds" posts each of which highlighted some of the nonsense being spouted by people on both sides of the referendum argument who ought to have known better.

In the very first of these pieces the "Remain" article I took issue with was a provocative Guardian article by a Dutch writer called Joris Luyendijk, called "It's time for Europe to turn the tables on bullying Britain," which appeared with a cartoon of the EU depicted as a larger than life "Superman" figure evidently threatening to thump a smaller figure representing Britain, with the caption (a quote from the article,)

"The best way forward for Europe is to threaten to hit the English as hard as we can."

The article disparaged and threatened the British in general and the English in particular using language like "we would strangle or crush the English."

I speculated at the time, only half in jest, about whether the author was secretly being paid by Nigel Farage to produce "false flag" articles deliberately intended to make people vote "Leave" or was doing so on his own bat because he personally wants rid of us: he admits that other EU citizens might "ask if this referendum is actually a once in a lifetime opportunity to cut the English loose."

I spent months agonising about which way to vote in the referendum before eventually deciding to vote "Remain", but I can honestly say that at no point during the entire referendum was I as close to voting "Leave" as immediately after reading Mr Luyendijk's egregious article.

Well now he has written another piece in Prospect called - I am not making this up -

"How I learnt to loathe England."

Had the article not been dripping with disdain for this country I might have considered that some - not all but some - of the points in it were actually quite well made. But because of the way it is written the Leavers have been all over it on social media with comments about how this is what Remainer prejudice looks like.

Thank you so much, Joris, for enabling people who voted Remain to be painted as sharing your prejudices. (Irony alert.)

I wonder, first, why someone who hates this country so much chose to live here for six years, and why Prospect Magazine chose to give a platform to what is basically an outpouring of hate speech.

As far as I am concerned all EU nationals resident in the UK who are here legally and like it here should be welcome to stay, their contribution is valued, and I hope we can reach agreement with the rest of the EU as soon as possible both to let them do so and to let British citizens in other UK countries stay there.

Since by his own admission Joris Luyendijk loathes England it is probably wise that he and his family have returned to Holland and I hope they are happy there.

Road Traffic accident in London - 11 injured

This afternoon there was an unfortunate Road Traffic Accident outside the Natural History Museum in which eleven people were injured.

Twitter went mental with various people speculating (often from the other side of the Atlantic) that it was a terrorist attack.

The Metropolitan police have issued a statement saying that they are treating this incident as a road traffic accident which is not terror-related.

The Met also said that none of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening or life changing.

Saturday music spot: Adagio from Corelli's Christmas Concerto (Voices of Music)

A superlative performance of an exquisite piece of music

Quote of the day 7th October 2017

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Productivity Problem

Britain's productivity, which had been growing steadily under John Major and Tony Blair, dropped under Gordon Brown and has flatlined ever since.

This is a serious cause of concern - it is the main reason that real income growth has been sluggish and we cannot hope to be competitive or afford more money for schools and hospitals without tackling this.

No major political party can or should be complacent about the problem which has persisted during periods when all of them have been in office.

I doubt very much that there is any single "magic bullet" to solve poor productivity and it certainly should not be seen as being all the fault of workers or, for that matter, management.

One thing which is needed is more investment and innovation - which in turn means that you are most unlikely to solve the problem under any government which imposes higher corporation tax or otherwise applies penal taxation to business instead of rewarding those who do well.

We also need to look again at opportunities for investment and training.

And we should ask how much of a burden on productivity is caused by bureaucracy - to what extent are people less productive because they are spending lots of time filling in government or corporate forms and surveys?

Apparently we are not all just equations in a computer programme ...

Nardole from Doctor Who ("I really hope I'm wrong") can relax - scientists think they have found evidence that we are not living in a computer simulation.

Spoiler alert - if you have not watched the tenth series (since relaunch) of Doctor Who and don't want to read a spoiler for one of the storylines, do not read past the next paragraph.

From when Descartes coined the phrase "Cogito Ergo Sum" (I think therefore I am) to "The Matrix" here has been speculation about whether reality as we perceive it might be an illusion. Perhaps even an artificially generated one.

Nardole and Bill found something in their world which did not work properly because of the inability of computers to perfectly simulate reality. But in our world, a team of Physicists at Oxford led by Zohar Ringel and Dmitry Kovrizhi have found evidence that the computing power required to model quantum mechanics for even a few hundred electrons would be so vast, and increases exponentially with the number of particles being simulated, that it is difficult to imagine that any computer could be powerful enough to model an entire universe at the Quantum level.

Their conclusions are set out in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, or you can read a press report about them here,

Another quote from Doctor Who is that "Truth is found only in mathematics" and absolute proof likewise, but since their study seems to show that a computer capable of simulating an entire universe would practically have to be as large as an entire universe, I think we can now put down the possibility that anyone could possibly find it worthwhile to build such a computer is pretty remote.


According to the New Scientist the authors of the paper,  Zohar Ringel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and Dmitry Kovrizhin at the University of Oxford are "a bit taken aback at the conclusions the media is drawing." from their work Asking whether we live in a simulation is not even a scientific question, Ringel says. See post to be published 16th October.

Quote of the day 6th October 2017

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Final thoughts on the Conference season

Greater Manchester Police and the large number of officers drafted in from other forces did an excellent job of protecting the Conservative conference this year. There was much less trouble than in 2015.

Nevertheless I think this passage from the Economist's "Bagehot" about his visit to Conservative conference is worth quoting in full, and I apologise for the use of language which I would not normally permit on this blog.

"The first thing I saw on arriving was a large army of angry demonstrators controlled by a smaller army of police, some with horses, a few with machine guns.

One demonstrator greeted me with the refrain “fuck off Tory scum”.

When I explained that I was a journalist he modified his greeting to “fuck off Tory media scum”.

Several delegates were spattered with spit.

It is a fact worth contemplating, particularly in discussions of online vitriol, that the only people who object to the very existence of their opponents, and are willing to express that objection in the form of sometimes violent protests, are on the left."

You can read the full article here.

On the conference cough

I've been feeling a little less than 100% today having come down with a cold and sore throat that I probably caught at Manchester. Quite possibly the same bug the PM had.

Like most in the hall I was impressed with her courage in carrying on. To those who have been calling her the "Maybot" - what more proof that she's a human being do you need.

Great shame that the policies revealed by the Conservative party this week and by Labour last week have been largely ignored by the media in favour of personalities and trivia about things like who has a cold.

Has Britain been gripped by fanaticism?

The average person in Britain is no more fascinated by politics, or doctrinaire about it, than he or she has ever been.

Among those who do take an interest in politics, however, there seems to be an increasing tendancy to believe that the opposition represents an existential threat and that one's own side has the ability to create a paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey,  providing the nasty Blairite/Eurocrats/Moderates/Extremists/Remoaners don't sabotage it.

I actually do believe that a Corbyn administration would do a massive amount of damage to Britain, but I wish I could for one moment believe that any party or faction had all the answers to create a paradise on earth. I don't.

There is an interesting article in The Economist about whether Britain is in the grip of "Millenarianism" which you can read here.

Second quote of the day 5th October 2017

The National Housing Federation on the substance of what the PM said about housing yesterday ...