Monday, 31 December 2012

This new year, raise your glass to a Buy British campaign

A taste of English wine shows how we can put the sparkle back into home-grown products, writes Boris Johnson

I have drunk a prodigious quantity of wine over the past few decades without bothering to learn anything about the difference between one vintage and another. So when my hand passes along a row of bottles on a supermarket shelf, there is nothing scientific about the process of selection.

I tend to discount bottles that are obviously too cheap. And I am suspicious of the expensive stuff, since in my experience it never really tastes better than the stuff that costs about £5 or £6 less. So I tend to look for bottles that are in the middle of the price range and have a colourful label or zany vineyard – and if they offer the extra convenience of a screwcap, so much the better.

In the course of getting in some supplies the other day, I found myself pausing in front of a bottle that seemed to meet all my criteria: reasonably priced, bright label, screwcap, funky vineyard name.

Then I looked closer. Hello, hello, hello, I said to myself. This wine comes from England! I almost left it at that, and passed on to the adjacent offerings from other EU countries or the New World. And then my hand wavered back, as if of its own volition. An English wine – of the kind that the Romans grew, and briefly favoured; an English wine such as flourished here during the warm period of the Middle Ages.

Might it be time to try it? Most people of my generation have grown up thinking that there is something slightly bonkers about drinking English wine, like doing Morris dancing, or singing madrigals or getting down on your hands and knees in Essex churches and doing brass rubbings. But as I looked into its pinkish depths Рit claimed to be a ros̩ РI remembered reading some very flattering verdicts on this liquid.

Didn’t they do a blind tasting with a load of French oenophiles, in which the French unwittingly plumped for English sparkling wine over their own champagne? This was a British product, and even if the labourers who picked it almost certainly numbered some hard-working immigrants from Eastern Europe, to buy this bottle was surely in some sense a patriotic act. I would be supporting a British firm, helping its cash flow in a tough time; and as my fingers fastened around the neck of the bottle I was filled with a sense of mission.

Imagine if we all bought English wine, as well as British beef and British milk.Imagine if every government-funded function were refreshed with English wine, rather than Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Think of the boost for jobs and growth in the wine sector in this country. Think of the difference to the balance of trade – now about as bad as it has been in our lifetimes. Think of the difference to this country’s prospects if – ceteris paribus – we bought British.

You don’t have to tell me about previous Buy British campaigns, and how they ended in derision and dismay. There was the famous initiative launched in 1968 by five Surbiton secretaries. They were so worried about the state of the economy that they announced they would work an extra half day per week – gratis, all for the sake of boosting national output.

Within days, several national newspapers had taken up their cause. Every party leader endorsed them. The Duke of Edinburgh said it was the finest thing he had seen all year, and soon the entire nation was in the grip of a movement called “I’m Backing Britain”.

Among other acts of selfless supererogation, a disc jockey called Jimmy Savile volunteered to work for nine days, without pay, as a hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary. Then the saintly Robert Maxwell leapt on the bandwagon, going on The David Frost Show and calling on people to “Buy British”.

Then things began to go wrong. First the unions objected to the whole concept of unpaid labour. Then it turned out that the “I’m Backing Britain” T-shirts had been made in Portugal.

After that, someone had the temerity to point out that Maxwell’s Pergamon Press printed most of its stuff in Eastern Europe, and that much of his output consisted of hagiographical accounts of Soviet bloc dictators. The whole campaign was wound in general sneering and ignominy, and the poor Surbiton secretaries complained that they hadn’t been able to do any work anyway, because they had been so busy giving interviews to tub-thumping newspapers.

Yes, the last great Buy British movement was a fiasco, and yet I can’t help feeling that the idea still has great merit. I am not calling for tariffs or protection – far from it. I don’t want the Government to pick winners, and I don’t want the taxpayer to cough up for mad attempts at import substitution, such as Tony Benn’s Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative, or Lymeswold cheese – a brand that never recovered from being compared in flavour to banana toothpaste.

But it is surely common sense that if we collectively make more of an effort to buy goods and services where value has been added in this country (I say nothing about ownership), then we will be helping to boost employment, and helping to reduce the costs of welfare that we all fund in our taxes. All we need is to be more aware of what we produce – and when you dig into it, the answers are amazing. It is a pernicious myth that “we don’t make anything any more”.

We make just about everything you could imagine: clothes, toys, food, drink, household goods, consumer electronics, cars, planes, missiles. Check out the Buy British website. We forget that we are still the sixth largest manufacturer on earth. There are thousands and thousands of British firms that are struggling to compete in the global export market, and whose ambitions would certainly be helped by stronger domestic consumption.

You don’t have to be out of pocket; you don’t have to buy some shoddy domestic product rather than a snazzy imported one. But when there are two virtually identical products, and the only difference is not price but nationality – then it surely makes sense to Buy British. That’s my New Year’s Resolution, and I hope it will be yours as well.

The wine was terrific, by the way.

Luckily for the people of East Sussex, we don't have far to go

Unions now provide 81% of donations to Labour as they have given £20million since Miliband became leader

-It marks a steep 22 per cent rise from Gordon Brown's leadership
-Tories claim Ed Miliband is even further in thrall to union barons
-Largest donor is Unite with £7.5 million given over two years

Labour has banked more than £20million in funding from unions since Ed Miliband became leader.

The money accounts for 81 per cent of donations to the party over the past two years.

It marks a steep rise from Gordon Brown's leadership, when unions provided 59 per cent of donations to the party.

Tory critics claim this shows Mr Miliband is even further in thrall to union barons than was his predecessor.

Union votes were vital in securing Mr Miliband's victory against his brother David in the 2010 party leadership election.

Figures released by the Electoral Commission show that the largest single donor was Unite, led by militant firebrand Len McCluskey. The union gave £7.5million over the two-year period.

Mr McCluskey suggested last year that he expected donations to influence policy, saying: 'I've got no intentions of bailing out the Labour Party with money until such times that they start to represent the views of ordinary working people.'

The party also received £3.6million from the GMB and the same amount from Unison. Mr Miliband has come in for criticism for his relationship with the unions.

In October he spoke at the TUC's anti-cuts march in central London, where some of those in the 150,000-strong crowd carried placards calling for a '24 hour general strike'.
The TUC had voted to consider a general strike for the first time since 1926 to oppose Coalition spending cuts.

Iron grip: Tory chairman Grant Shapps said Mr Miliband's reliance on his 'union paymasters' is clearer than ever
The figures show Labour has received total donations excluding public funds of £25million since Mr Miliband was elected.
Mr Brown's Labour received £59million in his three years as leader, of which nearly £35million came from trade unions.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: 'Miliband's reliance on his union paymasters is clearer than ever.
'These figures underline the iron grip union barons have on Miliband.'
But Labour have accused the Tories of giving rich donors too much influence over policy.

In the summer, official figures revealed that £790,948 was donated to the Tory Party by just eight individuals.
Another £710,000 came from donors attending 'Leader's Group meals' with Mr Cameron and other senior figures such as Home Secretary Theresa May and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
Large sums have also been given to the Tories by hedge fund boss George Robinson, who was ordered to pay back £2million in tax after a judge ruled against an offshore scheme.

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Iain Duncan Smith condemns tax credits

The work and pensions secretary has attacked the tax credit system put in place by Labour, saying it had resulted in "a sorry story of dependency, wasted taxpayers' money and fraud".

The work and pensions secretary has attacked the tax credit system put in place by Labour, saying it had resulted in "a sorry story of dependency, wasted taxpayers' money and fraud".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Iain Duncan Smith said the credits - to top up the incomes of the lower-paid - were "haemorrhaging money".

He said fraud and error in the system under Labour had cost £10bn.

Even for true claimants, "tax credits were not fit for purpose", he said.

Tax credits are paid based on estimates given by claimants for their income for the year ahead, with HM Revenue & Customs responsible for reclaiming any overpayments at the end of the year.

"In the years between 2003 and 2010, Labour spent a staggering £171bn on tax credits, contributing to a 60% rise in the welfare bill," Mr Duncan Smith said.

The system, he said, "was wide open to abuse".

The so-called "income disregard" - the amount a person's income can rise before their claim must be reassessed - was raised from £2,500 to £25,000 in 2008.

"It will come as no surprise therefore that fraudsters from around the world targeted this benefit for personal gain," Mr Duncan Smith said.

The government is planning to slash the disregard to £5,000.

Mr Duncan Smith also said that officials carried out far fewer checks on tax credit claims than benefit claims, despite estimates that one in 12 tax credit claims were incorrect or fraudulent, compared with fewer than one in 25 benefit claims.

The government believes there is more than £300m to be saved over the next three years by reducing fraud and error, and also wants to reclaim £400m in unpaid debts.

"Even for those in genuine need of support, tax credits were not fit for purpose," Mr Duncan Smith said.

"They were haemorrhaging money while at the same time trapping people in a system where those trying hard to increase the amount of hours they worked weren't necessarily better off."

Mr Duncan Smith is leading an overhaul of the welfare system that will see a number of benefits replaced by a new universal credit that is designed, he says, "to make work pay at each and every hour".

He also accused previous Labour governments of boosting tax credit payments ahead of the last two general elections in "an attempt to gain short-term popularity".

"It knew what it was doing - this was a calculated attempt to win votes," he said.

New Year Message from Prime Minister David Cameron

"2012 was an extraordinary year for our country. We celebrated our Queen with the Jubilee. And with the Olympics and Paralympics we showed beyond any doubt that Britain can deliver. It was a great year. But, if we are honest, it was a tough one too.

We are still dealing with debts that built up over many years. And for many families, making ends meet is difficult. So to anyone starting this New Year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to reassure you of this: we are on the right track. On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.

This government inherited a huge budget deficit that was dragging our country down. Well, this New Year, that deficit is forecast to be £13 billion smaller than last New Year, down by one quarter since we came to office.

We inherited a welfare system that was frankly out of shape, that paid people not to work. So we made some big changes, and this New Year almost half a million more people are in work than last New Year. That is real progress.

We inherited an education system where too often mediocre was deemed good enough and discipline in many schools was slack. We said we need more discipline, tougher exams and more academies because those schools consistently get better results. Well, this New Year we’ve got more than 1,000 academies open than last New Year. The numbers studying science and languages are going up. And teachers have more power over discipline than they’ve had for years. This is, quite simply, a government in a hurry. And there’s a reason for that.

Britain is in a global race to succeed today. It is race with countries like China, India and Indonesia; a race for the jobs and opportunities of the future. So when people say we can slow down on cutting our debts, we are saying no. We can’t win in this world with a great millstone of debt round our necks.

When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no. Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us. And when there is a fight on our hands to change our schools, we are ready and willing to have it because having a world-class education is the only way our children are going to get on in this world.

And we know what we are doing all this for: not just to get our country up the rankings in some global league table but to get behind anyone who likes to work hard and get on in life. It’s for those people that we made changes to our tax system in 2012, cutting the income tax bills of 24 million workers. It is for them that we have frozen the council tax for three years in a row, to keep bills as low as we can.

And we did the right thing by our pensioners too, in 2012, bringing in the biggest ever increase in the state pension. This is what this government is about: making sure Britain succeeds in this global race and, above all, helping our people succeed, the people who work hard and aspire to a better life for their families.

So this is my message to the country at the start of 2013. We can look to the future with realism and optimism. Realism, because you can’t cure problems, that were decades in the making, overnight. There are no quick fixes and I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what’s right for our country and what’s best for our children’s future. And nothing could be more important than that."

Sunday, 30 December 2012

End of year report by Cllr Patrick Warner & my hopes for 2013

British Pride

What a year 2012 has been, we've seen the very best of Britain during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and followed that with the fantastically successful Olympic & Paralympic Games held in our capital city. I've never seen so much pride in being British and I really hope that this spirit can be harnessed to help our nation go on to achieve great things next year.

Carnival & Community

At home in Eastbourne as in many other towns up and down the country we saw communities coming together to celebrate together both events. We've also seen the Carnival return to Eastbourne after an absence of too many years and I was chuffed to bits to martial for the winning 'Sovereign Harbour' float - many congratulations to Harbour residents Alison Attwood and Brian Holmes and all those involved in putting the winning entry together and to all those who organised and took part.

Progress in Sovereign Ward

We've seen some progress on restoring the balance between the lack of community facilities and residential development in Sovereign Harbour in which Councillors of both political parties have worked together with residents, protected Five Acre Field in Langney Point from a totally unsuitable events program that would have made nearby residents' lives a misery, succeeded in influencing Planning Committee members to support regeneration plans for the Sovereign Harbour Retail Park which will deliver much needed public transport improvements in the ward whilst also approving exciting Town Centre redevelopment plans and an extension to the Arndale Centre.

Holding Eastbourne's Lib-Dems to account

I've also worked hard with my Opposition Group colleagues to hold the Lib-Dem administration at Eastbourne Town Hall to account. On the ongoing Asset Management scandal which has seen key public buildings covered in scaffolding and safety fencing, we have uncovered a catalogue of neglect that has already run into around £5m worth of repair costs after the first round of property inspections and whilst we are working with them to try and improve their response to dealing with the crisis, we fear that the taxpayers exposure to it will only increase substantially with some very difficult decisions in the near future on which repairs can be afforded and which sites may have to be sold.

Election Roundup

We've welcomed new Meads Councillor, Caroline Ansell at a by-election who has already made a big impact, we've seen the election of the first Police & Crime Commissioner for Sussex, Katy Bourne and we have County Council elections to look forward to in May 2013 when residents will have a chance to build on the strong and stable progress of the Conservative run East Sussex County Council whilst delivering real change and hope in a number of Lib-Dem held local division seats.

Priorities for 2013

Whilst continuing to challenge our opponents where we believe they are wrong, we will continue to work with them on issues where we agree. One such issue is the cross party campaign to Upgrade the A27 trunk road between Eastbourne and Lewes. The Labour Government of 1997 cancelled the previous plans to dual this section of road and since then, traffic congestion and pollution to the villages along the road have increased substantially, the local economy has remained held back and the number of injuries and deaths sustained have increased as the appalling road safety record has deteriorated still further. I and an increasing coalition local people intend to lobby for these vital improvements to be put back on the agenda. You can sign our e-petition at: and you can keep up to date with campaign updates at:

Finally, I've thoroughly enjoyed interaction with an increasing number of people via social media. My blog 'A View from the Chamber' seems to have increased in popularity having now received a staggering 27,500 page views since I started it and averaging around 6-7,000 views each month with posts ranging from local issues I'm working on, promoting local and British businesses and national political interest topics. I've sent over 5,000 tweets to nearly 700 followers and found that through Facebook and Twitter, I've not only been able to communicate with a large chunk of the electorate that I may not have reached via the traditional canvassing methods but I've also been able to share ideas, best practice and debate with colleagues all over the country and further a field.

I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

Guy Opperman MP: Teach Prisoners to read and write in custody – that is a sentence that will achieve something

Guy Opperman was a Criminal Barrister for over 15 years engaged in many murder and other trials. He became the MP for Hexham in 2010. His book “Doing Time” – Prisons in the 21st Century is available in all bookshops, and on Amazon /Kindle. Proceeds go to an NHS charity, the National Brain Appeal.

Prison does work. It locks people up so that the prisoner cannot then commit a crime: yet prison for decades has failed to change the prisoner’s behaviour. I am not against sending people to prison. I spent over 15 years doing that as a criminal prosecutor. But it is what we do with the prisoner when they are in prison that needs to change. It is this issue that I have addressed in my new book, “Doing Time” – Prisons in the 21st Century.

The harsh fact is that over the last 20 years, despite multiple new laws, and successive politicians passing tougher and tougher sentences, the prison population has doubled with reoffending rates at approximately 70%. Given that we spend at least £45,000 a year on adult prisoners, and around £100,000 on young offenders, we have to accept that the taxpayer is getting a poor return when 7 out of 10 former prisoners are reoffending upon release.

The reasons are obvious: 50 % of all prisoners are illiterate, 50% are drug addicted, over half of all prisoners were excluded from school, have no skills, and ran away from home, and 25% of all prisoners were in care as children. It is clear that parenting, education and society has failed the vast majority of those in custody. How we treat them in prison will decide how such people – who clearly struggle to cope with the normal aspects of society – will fare upon their release.

For too long prison has been simply about long term incarceration with little real attempt to address the causes for the prisoners presence in custody. This is changing under the Coalition Government, but it still needs a significant shift of emphasis from the bottom up: prison officers, governors and then government resources need to focus on reforming their charges, not simply locking them up 20+ hours a day.

The three key elements which will determine the way forward are simply outlined: literacy, drug treatment and skills. The skills deficit is beginning to be addressed by the Coalition so that prisoners actually spend more time working in prison.


But it is literacy that is the foundation of all attempts at stopping offending upon release. If only 1 in 5 released prisoners can complete a job application form their prospects of going straight are massively diminished. Victor Hugo correctly made the point that, “he who opens a school door, closes a prison.” I would like to see literacy training made a mandatory part of a custodial sentence for those without literacy. It is very simple. The prisoner is captive. Teach them to read. We would need to develop greater mentoring by prison officers, and former offenders; we would need to tackle the problem of poor take up by prisoners, by ensuring there were sentence incentives for competition of a literacy course. The Shannon Trust’s groundbreaking “Toe by Toe” scheme provides a blueprint for others to follow. Literacy is a simple objective but one worth a great deal of investment because the purpose of custody must surely be both deprivation of liberty and a change in the prisoners behaviour. Without literacy such a prospect is remote.


Over 50% of serving prisoners are drug addicted – some through prescription drugs, some through illegal drugs. It is patently wrong that we do not test properly upon admission to prison or prior to release. We need greater efforts to prevent drugs entering prisons, mandatory treatment for known users, and again sentence incentives for those who can genuinely prove that their time in prison has allowed them to come clean. It is genuinely shocking to read the words of the former Labour Home Office Minister, David Hanson, MP, who told the House of Commons in 2007: “one in 5 men who report using mainstream drugs, first used them in prison.”

A Big Society Prison

My final radical suggestion is the idea of a Big Society prison: instead of a prison run by the state or on a payment by results private basis why could we not have a charity or a community / church organisation coming together to take charge of low grade category D and some Category C prisoners? Such a prison would be run in the community, by that community, for those who have transgressed in that community. Examples of this are beginning to crop up around the world, and if we really want to turn people around local solutions are always the best.

The Ministry of Justice under the Coalition have taken good steps to prison reform, but a great deal more needs to be done if we are stop having 7 out of 10 reoffending upon release; this expensive roundabout of repeat criminals is surely in no one’s interest.

Crime falls 10% despite police cuts

The government has reignited its war of words with the Police Federation by releasing new figures showing crime has fallen steeply in the past two years despite sharp reductions in police budgets.

Recorded crime fell by at least 10% in 19 out of 43 force areas in England and Wales while budgets were cut by an average of just under 10%.

A Home Office source accused the federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, of “scaremongering” for claiming cuts would lead to “Christmas for criminals” and an increase in offending.

Against a background of growing animosity between the police and the Tories in the wake of the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” row, the figures will also bolster David Cameron and Theresa May, the home secretary. They are attempting to force further cuts of 3% on the police as a result of the autumn statement.

This sounds like really good news given the concerns that have previously been expressed about cuts and from my experience locally, I am sure that the continued cuts in crime are down to the efforts of our Police officers. However I'd be really interested to hear views from my local police followers as to how they view the effect of the cuts, how the Police Federation performs in their view and what changes they have experienced since Commissioner Katy Bourne was elected as Sussex's first Police & Crime Commissioner.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Margaret Thatcher leaves hospital

Former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has left hospital after having a growth removed from her bladder, sources have told the BBC.

She is said to be "doing well" after a minor operation to remove the growth.

The 87-year-old, who has suffered from ill health in recent years, was admitted last week and is thought to have left hospital on Friday.

The BBC's Norman Smith says Baroness Thatcher is understood to be "convalescing privately".

However, our correspondent says it is not clear if that means she is at home.

Shortly after she was admitted to hospital, Lord Bell - a friend and former adviser - told BBC News she had undergone "minimally invasive" surgery.

"She's very tough. The doctors are perfectly happy. They say the operation has been completely satisfactory," he said.

Poor health

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted a message to Lady Thatcher after her admission, saying he wished her a "speedy recovery".

Baroness Thatcher was the UK's first female prime minister and served three terms, between 1979 and 1990.

She had a series of minor strokes in 2002 and was advised by doctors to stop making public speeches.

Her daughter, Carol Thatcher, has previously spoken of her mother's struggle with dementia.

Baroness Thatcher was not well enough to join the Queen for a lunch with the prime minister and former prime ministers as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier this year.

However, in October she was sufficiently well to mark her 87th birthday with lunch at a London restaurant with her son Mark and his wife.

Find out why David Cooper supports the campaign to #upgradeA27now

David Cooper is a Chartered Engineer specialising in people movement, a former President of Eastbourne's Chamber of Commerce and someone who has for many years campaigned for vital upgrades to the A27 between Polegate and Lewes. I am pleased that David has offered to lend his experience and support as we build a new cross party coalition campaigning for these vital improvements.

Following yesterday's campaign endorsement by Ian Lucas, David added "many years ago I was part of a delegation to the House of Commons campaigning for the upgrade of the A27 and part of that delegation team was a Surgeon from the District General Hospital who had the task of rebuilding people after accidents on the A27. On the evidence he gave alone, without the rest of the solid reasons for the upgrade, you have my vote!"

If you have not yet signed the petition, please click the following link and do so today and to stay in touch with the campaign 'Like' the Facebook page at

It's time to threaten the Lib Dems with Mutually Assured Destruction

"Mutual assured destruction, or mutually assured destruction (MAD), is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of high-yield weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of both the attacker and the defender becoming thus a war that has no victory nor any armistice but only effective reciprocal destruction." (Wikipedia)

The Liberal Democrat campaign to retoxify the Tory brand is becoming more organised.

The party's Director of Communications Tim Snowball has produced talking points for all senior Lib Dems scheduled to appear on the media.

The Press Association has some of the key anti-Tory messages:
"The Conservatives can't be trusted to build a fair society. Until the Lib Dems got into government, no one could stop the Tories from looking after the super rich who fund their party, while ignoring the needs of normal people who struggle to make ends meet."

"Let's never go back to the way things were, because Labour can't be trusted with your money, and the Tories can't be trusted to build a fair society."

"If we all stick to and get some volume behind this script, by this time next year our voters will know that the Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

"So, if you make one New Year resolution this year, please make it to help us be 'On Message, In Volume, Over Time' and communicate from this script at every opportunity."

At the moment the bomb throwing is all one way. The Lib Dems need to know Conservatives won't keep meekly accepting their punches without a response for much longer. And if we counter-attack we will target their achilles heel and, ultimately, only Labour will benefit. The only way of encouraging the Lib Dems to observe coalition etiquette is to threaten them with Mutually Assured Destruction. There is a time to focus on electoral politics. Halfway through a parliament when the governing project still has a long way to go is not that time.

If the Lib-Dems think that suddenly, they are the party that can offer the electorate trust, we don't have to cast our minds back very far to know the truth. We only have to look at their campaigning tactics and their broken promises to understand why their electoral prospects have dive bombed. They are now so irrelevant in British politics that extremists often kick them into fourth or fifth place when by-elections are called which should be of real concern to us all. I cannot imagine that Labour with its two ed's will be trusted with the keys to the British economy in 2015 after leaving it near write-off in the ditch when Gordon Brown left office.

That leaves David Cameron with a big challenge to show he has listened on a number of important issues so that the very challenging task of putting Britain back on the path to prosperity can be completed. Only the Conservative party of which I am proud to be a member can offer everyone who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and work hard, the opportunity to succeed. Only the Conservative party which has given us the best Prime Ministers in history in Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, can truly be trusted.

There needs to be far more focus on growth and better communication on what the Government is doing to make our lives better. There needs to be less time given to issues which do not help achieve our overall aims, charity needs to begin at home, we need to invest more money on our future and reduce foreign aid to a far smaller number of really deserving cases, rather than sending billions of pounds abroad where it can fall into the wrong hands and finally we need to get a grip in Europe. We were sold a free trade agreement but over the years the EU has meddled in far too much of our daily lives aided and abetted by Labour Governments too weak to fight our corner.

Over to you Prime Minister, show Britain you understand and inspire the British people to give you a solid electoral mandate in 2015 and you too could yet go down in history as a Great British Prime Minister!

Cabinet papers of 1982 reveal the Iron Lady's steel

By Michael Dobbs

You can’t be neutral about Margaret Thatcher.

As prime minister you loved her or hated her, and sometimes I managed both. She was energy, action and outrage, a woman who stood up to her enemies and sometimes even throttled her friends. And as the official papers just released under the 30-year rule reveal, 1982 was her year of destiny.

It was a year in which she fought the Argentines, kicked the French, intimidated the Americans and made mincemeat of the Dean of St Paul’s.

She also cried a lot.

Great leaders are made by crises that destroy lesser mortals and the Falklands War was no exception. It had moments of almost comic distraction – Rex Hunt, the governor, surrendering in full colonial regalia complete with ostrich-plumed hat, MI6 agents disguised as baggage handlers with plans to hijack planes carrying Argentine war supplies. Much of it seemed to come straight out of a James Bond novel.

Maggie didn’t want the war as she would need a huge chunk of good fortune to stand any chance but she was supremely lucky with her opponents.

General Galtieri the Argentine leader was described in Cabinet papers as “an alcoholic and apparently incapable of rational thought”. Yet the odds were stacked against the British and our forces were never more than a missile strike away from disaster. In one of the most extraordinary moments, the luxury cruise liner SS Canberra was requisitioned, packed with almost 4,000 troops and vital military equipment then sent virtually unprotected into the heart of the war zone.

As a fearful Cabinet minister told me at the time: “If the Argentine air force arrives within the next couple of hours before the anti-aircraft weapons are unloaded, the ship and a huge number of troops will be lost. The war will be lost too.”

During those weeks Maggie showed she was an Iron Lady forged from the finest British steel. She swung her handbag at the French, badgering President Mitterrand into denying the Argentines the Exocet missiles they had already bought, and fought the faint hearts at the UN who wanted a ceasefire.

Yet it was her American allies whom she beat up most badly.

At times they were useless – senior US diplomats being described in one Foreign Office despatch as “fools and fascists”.

They were so desperate to remain neutral that wobbly kneed secretary of state Al Haig even threatened to reveal to the Argentines our plans to retake the islands. To the very last, even as British troops stood on the outskirts of Port Stanley ready to retake the islands’ capital, the Americans were urging compromise.

Maggie was having none of that. Time and again she told her great friend President Ronald Reagan that she wouldn’t do it.

“Britain has not lost precious lives in battle and sent an enormous task force to hand over the Queen’s islands,” she told him. It was an echo of Winston Churchill who, during the Second World War, declared that: “I have not become the king’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”

She was Churchillian. Stubborn.

Determined. She had no time for muddled minds. When the Dean of St Paul’s suggested the thanksgiving service for British troops should include the Lord’s Prayer read in Spanish she dismissed the idea with a contemptuous: “Why?” Yet there was an entirely different more vulnerable side to her. Weeks before the Falklands War her wayward son Mark disappeared in the Sahara desert while competing in a car rally. She was distraught.

"Her daughter Carol said her mother was “completely unable to function”.

Husband Denis was hauled from his bath and dispatched to the desert to help with the international search effort. Maggie “fell apart”.

When at last Mark was discovered unharmed he tried to laugh off the entire episode.
Denis was white with fury. And Maggie insisted on paying every penny of the bill, even the huge bar tab run up at the hotel after his rescue, to make it clear that her little family folly hadn’t cost the taxpayer a penny. “I must pay,” she insisted. “To whom do I make out the cheque?” The Cabinet papers paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman. She had huge courage yet was intensely vulnerable.

She was both Iron Lady and doting mother

She was scrupulously honest about the use of public money in a manner that should cause blushes among many of the current politicians. She was both Iron Lady and doting
mother. But the characteristic that above all others made her great was her willingness to risk everything for what she thought was right. The Argentine invasion, she said, was the worst moment of her life.

There were many who told her that retaking the Falklands would be impossible. It would cost her job, her place in history, everything. She simply said that it was her duty and in clinging to her duty wrote a glorious chapter in our nation’s history.

Her willingness to defy conventional opinion and her sometimes utter unreason would eventually lead to her downfall, when she would be dragged in tears from Downing Street with her fingernails left embedded in the carpet.

In 1982 that humiliation was still years away. It was a year that was to provide her finest hour.

Finally, 22 years later... Delors finally gets it

Britain could end up leaving the EU, former top Brussels bureaucrat Jacques Delors has admitted.

It was his push for far closer EU political and financial ties between member states that led to our 1990 front page declaring: Up Yours Delors.

But 22 years on, Mr Delors — European Commission President between 1985 to 1994 — concedes it may be time for Britain to quit the EU.

He says it could enjoy “a different form of partnership” with the continent.
Frenchman Mr Delors, 87 — credited as being the architect of the modern EU — told a German newspaper: “The British are solely concerned about their economic interests, nothing else.

“They could be offered a different form of partnership.

“If the British cannot support the trend towards more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis.

“I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free trade agreement.”

Read more:

Friday, 28 December 2012

Sussex people join Olympians in the New Year Honours List

A full list of those included in the New Year's Honours List is available on a link at the end of this blog but here follows a list of those honoured from East Sussex. I would like to offer particular congratulations to three local people that have the pleasure of knowing:

Cllr Peter Jones who has been made a CBE who as Leader of Conservative controlled East Sussex County Council since 2001, has made a huge contribution to local Government in the south east and who will leave a legacy that will be hard to rival when he retires at the forthcoming elections in May.

Guy Woodford who I had the pleasure of serving alongside on Willingdon & Jevington Parish Council between 1999 and 2003. Guy set an example to me as a young Councillor elected for the first time and demonstrated great passion for the area he lived in and served and was instrumental in the 'Willingdon in Bloom' competition which still adds colour to this village every year.

Spencer Freeman who has been 'instrumental' in music in Eastbourne for many years through his association with East Sussex Schools and the Central Methodist Church.

The East Sussex Honours are as follows:

Councillor Peter Jones CBE. Leader, East Sussex County Council. For services to Local Government in the South East.

Christine Forster CBE. Operations director, Child Support Agency, Department for Work and Pensions. For services to the Transformation of the Child Support System. (Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex)

Ms Diane Robertson Martin CBE. Formerly director, Trust, Lambeth. For services to Vulnerable Women. (Brighton, East Sussex)

Robert Crawley OBE. Head of Health and wellbeing, Metropolitan Police. For services to the Police Occupational Health Services. (Pevensey, East Sussex)

Professor Sandra Thomas OBE. Head of Foresight, Government Office for Science. For services to Government Science Policy. (Polegate, East Sussex)

Guy Elliot Woodford MBE. For services to charity and to the community in Willingdon East Sussex. (Eastbourne, East Sussex)

Spencer William Freeman MBE. For services to Music and the Arts in Eastbourne East Sussex. (Eastbourne, East Sussex)

Richard Hallett MBE. Campaigner, Maternity Services. For services to Midwifery and Parents. (Crowborough, East Sussex)

Martin Hovenden MBE. Special Constable, Sussex Police. For services to Policing. (St Leonard's on Sea, East Sussex)

Mrs Josephine Clare Kirkham MBE. For services to the community in Rye, East Sussex. (Rye, East Sussex)

Mrs Sally Margaret Lee MBE. Founder, Sara Lee Charitable Trust. For services to the community in Hastings, Rother and Rye. (St Leonard's on Sea, East Sussex)

Donald Albert Mabey MBE. For voluntary service to the Royal Air Forces Association. (Seaford, East Sussex)

Douglas Matthews MBE. Literary Indexer. For services to Literature. (Lewes, East Sussex)

Mrs Shirley Price MBE. For charitable services in East Sussex. (Hailsham, East Sussex)

Victor George Truluck MBE. For charitable services in Hastings East Sussex. (Hastings, East Sussex)

The full honours list is available here:

Crisis? Do as Margaret Thatcher would have done, China tells its future leaders

Baroness Thatcher is said to have once welcomed a visiting president to Downing Street with the words, “I hate Communists”.

But the former British Prime Minister is being held up as an inspiration for future leaders of the People’s Republic of China with words attributed to the Iron Lady being used to train senior members of the Communist Party.

At Shanghai’s China Executive Leadership Academy, one of the country’s most elite party schools, Lady Thatcher’s philosophy has found its way into a “crisis management” course.
The Daily Telegraph was this week given rare access to the leadership academy’s 104-acre, oak-lined campus, in a bid to show the Communist Party’s more cosmopolitan side ahead of a once-in-a-decade handover of power.

A lecturer, Prof Li Min, said that when it came to crisis management, Britain’s former prime minister was a model of excellence.

Quoting the words attributed to Lady Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s 2011 film The Iron Lady, she said: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Although there is no evidence that Lady Thatcher said the words in real life, Prof Li said: “Mrs Thatcher is a lady I quite admire. [She is] the Iron Lady.”

She also spoke of the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, north London, which triggered five days of disturbances last August. “Why did a welfare state country, a nanny state, have massive urban riots?” she asked.

Lady Thatcher might seem an unusual choice for the curriculum of an academy grooming the next generation of Chinese leaders. But Shanghai’s Leadership Academy is no ordinary party school.
“We have an open attitude towards all civilisations that are useful to us, and [we] learn from them,” explained Prof Jiang Haishan, the head of its international programme.

Feng Jun, the academy’s executive vice-president, conceded that many outsiders found China’s party schools “mysterious”, but denied they were designed to indoctrinate officials with Marxist dogma.

“It is not brainwashing [we do] here, it is brainstorming – finding the answers and solutions to the problem,” he said.

Students were taught “to love Socialism and to strengthen their faith in the paths of Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Feng added. “[But] we intend for cadres studying here to free and broaden their minds. Many things can be discussed here.”

A prospectus says the “international, contemporary and innovative institution” offered “cutting-edge leadership training”. Gordon Brown and Romano Prodi have both visited while past speakers include Lord Patten and Robert Zoellick, then president of the World Bank.

Prof Frank Pieke, the chairman of Modern China Studies at Leiden University, said the academies were conceived because of Beijing’s “impatience with the lack of what they call the quality of local cadres and their inability to govern their localities or institutions effectively.”

But the Shanghai academy, one of five across China, is also part of a PR drive. “It is very much part of the new glossy face of the Communist Party under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao,” said Prof Pieke, whose book The Good Communist: Elite Training and State Building in Today’s China examines the education of party officials.

“This is what they want China to look like. This is how they want China to be ruled.”

Find out why Ian Lucas supports the campaign to #upgradeA27now

Ian Lucas is a Director of Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce, a founder member of the SavetheDGH campaign, Local Businessman, avid fan of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club and a former Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council.

As you can imagine, Ian uses the A27 regularly and shares the frustration of many at the state of this vital road link which connects Eastbourne and many surrounding towns and villages with Lewes, Brighton, Gatwick & Heathrow Airports and the national motorway network.

Today traffic was held up for miles in both directions as emergency repairs needed to be completed at Selmeston, pointless delays that may not have caused so much frustration if the road was wider and more able to be worked on when needed without bringing traffic to a standstill.

Ian tweeted "yet another ridiculously long hold up on A27 at Barley Mow corner, how long must this go on?" Sadly it wasn't any better on his return journey and he added "for the second time today, I'm queuing on the A27 and fed up, imagine the economic benefit to our town if it were upgraded".

Well said Ian!

If like Ian and many others, you think that something should be done now, join the cross party campaign to #upgradeA27now by signing our online e-petition by clicking here:

You can also 'Like' the campaign Facebook page to keep up to speed with our efforts at:

Former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's blistering attack on French over Exocets during Falklands

Margaret Thatcher warned that Britain’s relationship with France would suffer a “devastating” blow if the latter allowed Exocet missiles to be smuggled to Argentina during the Falklands War.

In a secret telegram to French president Francois Mitterand, the Prime Minister even cast doubt on the future of the Nato alliance, should he fail to stop shipments of the anti-ship missile, then being used with awful effect against Britain’s task force in the South Atlantic.

The sea-skimming Exocet was the most feared weapon in the Argentinian armoury, accounting for the destroyer Sheffield and the container ship Atlantic Conveyor, and posing a mortal threat to Operation Corporate, the mission to recover the Falklands.

Fortunately for Britain, only five of the missiles, manufactured by France’s Aerospatiale, had been delivered before the invasion of the islands on April 2 1982.

One had been used up in training and following the attacks on Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor just one was left. The junta was desperate for more.

Files released at the National Archives in Kew today convey Whitehall’s desperation to stem the flow of Exocets, even to the extent of considering an attack on a suspected shipment in neutral Brazil.

So febrile was the atmosphere that the Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, suggested his own “James Bond” plan to deal with the threat.

Thatcher’s broadside to Mitterand came on May 29, four days after the sinking of Atlantic Conveyor and her cargo of troop-carrying helicopters considered vital to the British advance on Port Stanley.

The French president had telephoned the Prime Minister to say that Peru, an ally of Argentina, was pressuring his country to deliver a batch of Exocets ordered before the war.

The British were in no doubt about the true destination of the missiles and Thatcher made it clear that the French would pay dearly for putting their reputation as a reliable arms supplier before the Anglo-French alliance.

“We have been much heartened by France’s stalwart support both in public and private,” she wrote. “If it became known, as it certainly would, that France was now releasing weapons to Peru that would certainly be passed on to Argentina for use against us, France’s ally, this would have a devastating effect on the relationship between our two countries. Indeed, it would have a disastrous effect on the alliance as a whole.”

The message was rammed home by Sir Michael Palliser, diplomatic adviser to Thatcher. Relating a meeting with Francois Gutman, secretary general of the French foreign ministry, he wrote: “I made it absolutely clear to him that this was a matter of crucial importance to the Anglo-French relationship in general and to the Prime Minister’s own relationship with the president in particular.
"I did not believe I would be overstating the matter if I used the word “catastrophic” in relation to any supply by France of those missiles to Peru.”

The secret war against the Exocet went into overdrive following the loss of Sheffield on May 4. Military attaches and MI6 stations around the world were ordered to track suspect shipments and Israel, South Africa and Libya were all suspected of aiding the junta.

Even Switzerland, whose embassy in Buenos Aires was representing British diplomatic interests, was involved. One report accused Swissair of shipping Israeli equipment to Argentina.

“The risk of re-supply to the Argentinians of further air-to-sea missiles justifies consideration of all options to prevent this – even the most way-out - which may be thought more appropriate to a James Bond movie!” remarked Havers in a handwritten note to Thatcher.

The Government law officer described a meeting with the director of a cargo airline who told him that black-market Exocets would most likely be flown to South America by an operator based in the Middle East. “The profits can be enormous and will attract the cowboy carrier in circumstances when the exporting country will not want to risk its own aircraft for publicity reasons,” wrote Havers, before suggesting that a British agent could be recruited to serve as the aircraft’s loadmaster.

“The loadmaster has total control of the flight and therefore can redirect the aircraft in transit to (for example) Bermuda. This will cost money (this is an expensive dirty business) but would in my view be cheap at the price.”

Reports about Exocets poured into London. When Francis Pym, the Foreign Secretary, was told that Iran may have captured seven missiles from Iraq and might sell them to the junta, he told the British embassy in Tehran to buy them.

Meanwhile in Brazil, the British air attache was keeping an eye on a Boeing 707 engaged in suspicious flights between Libya and Argentina via the Brazilian city of Recife. A Brazilian source who had gained access to the aircraft during one stopover spotted six containers similar in size to the Exocet.

In a secret ‘flash’ telegram of May 31, William Harding, British ambassador in Brasilia, warned: “Airat (air attache) who came within five yards of the aircraft last night reports crew very nervous, with armed security guards in evidence. Source is only person allowed on board aircraft, which reflects both his privileged position and vulnerability if we do not guard information with great care.”

Harding suggested four options: discreet diplomatic pressure on the Brazilians, an orchestrated press campaign to embarrass the Brazilians, “direct action” in Recife or “direct action” outside Brazil.

“I would rule out any direct action on Brazilian territory, however high the stakes,” he cautioned. “Operationally it would be very difficult to guarantee success and the consequences could poison our relations with Brazil for a very long time.”

Pym cabled back that Libya was known to be supplying Argentina with French-made equipment, possibly air-to-air missiles.

Harding responded: “In view of the evident connivance of at least some Brazilian authorities with two previous shipments, I still think that pressure through the media would be more effective.”
Pym replied: “We are setting in hand the leaking of this information with a dateline outside Brazil. We have ruled out any idea of quote direct action unquote in Brazilian territory, and have no current plans to take it outside Brazil.”

Despite assurances, the British remained suspicious of French motives. They were right to be. A team from Dassault, makers of the Super Etendard fighter that carried Exocet, was in Argentina helping that country’s navy master launch procedures. On June 10 a top secret “UK Eyes Alpha” message was received. Three new Etendards had been spotted at the Dassault factory near Bordeaux carrying Peruvian air force markings, yet Peru had not ordered the type.

“All adding up to a possible circumvention of the French arms ban in the guise of a delivery to Peru,” the report noted.

The secret war against Exocet would eventually be won, thanks mainly to a MI6 sting operation undertaken by the Hamburg-based agent, Anthony Divall. Posing as an arms dealer and equipped with a £16 million bank facility, he fooled Argentinian arms buyers into believing he could provide 30 Exocets. They were still undelivered when the Union Flag was hoisted over Port Stanley.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deployed army of spies in Gibraltar after Falklands

Margaret Thatcher ordered that an army of spies be deployed across southern Spain to safeguard Gibraltar against a Falklands-style surprise attack.

The Prime Minister was obsessed with the possibility that the Spanish might attempt to retake the Rock, captured by Britain in 1704, while the Armed Forces were distracted by war in the South Atlantic.

The seizure by Argentina of the Falklands in April 1982 coincided with a thaw in Anglo-Spanish relations. Talks on the future of Gibraltar were to coincide with the opening of the border, closed by General Franco in 1969.

Presented with a Ministry of Defence assessment on the threat to Gibraltar three days after the fall of Port Stanley, Thatcher scribbled in the margin: “This is suspiciously like the Falkland Islands assessments before invasion.”

The MoD tried to calm the Prime Minister’s fears, explaining that post-fascist Spain was anxious to join both Nato and the EEC and would want to wreck these ambitions by emarking on a wild military adventure.

In any event, the isthmus joining Gibraltar to the mainland was easy to defend and reinforcements could be sent in a week, should a Spanish build-up be detected. But a caveat was inserted: “The territory could no doubt eventually be overwhelmed by vastly superior forces,” warned the planners.

Unconvinced, Thatcher ordered another assessment by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the coordinating body for Britain’s intelligence agencies. It was similarly comforting, suggesting that the only risk to the colony came from rogue elements in the Spanish armed forces staging a small-scale unauthorized assault as an “act of bravado”.

Quietly, measures were taken to beef up defences. An infantry company was sent to join the garrison battalion, together with Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles. General Sir William Jackson, Gibraltar’s governor, wanted six Buccaneer bombers flown in to provide insurance against a Spanish amphibious exercise due to start on April 26.

But just two Jaguars were sent instead so as not to arouse suspicion. Thatcher’s worries continued after the war. In September 1982 the JIC admitted that there might be no warning at all of an attack by rogue units, prompting her to demand the deployment of a “large number of agents” to cover a “wide belt of territory” on the Spanish side of the border.

On October 28 her private secretary observed: “The Prime Minister has noted the precautions which we are taking to obtain early intelligence of possible Spanish action against Gibraltar but does not find the picture very reassuring. She would therefore welcome a further word with FCO (Foreign Office) and ‘C’ (The chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6).”

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Motorway screens to be introduced to stop rubbernecking and clear accidents faster

More than 3,000 screens have been bought by the Highways Agency to stop drivers in England rubbernecking when passing motorway accidents.

The partitions will be put up to deter drivers who slow down to look at crashes on the opposite carriageway and therefore slow down the traffic behind.

They form part of a Department for Transport initiative to improve accident clear-up times.

The government said the screens would "keep the motorways flowing".

The DfT's CLEAR - collision, lead, evaluate, act and reopen - initiative was launched last year to help ensure motorways and roads reopen quickly following major accidents.

As part of this scheme, 105 sets of incident screens will be made available for use by the Highways Agency next year.

'Great advantage'

Each set has 30 screens which are loaded onto purpose-built trailers and can screen up to 75m if used end-to-end. The individual screens are approximately 2.1m by 2m high.

The total cost of the purchase was £2.3m, with each set costing £22,000.

Roads minister Stephen Hammond said: "This will be another great advantage to hopefully clearing up collisions but also getting the roads moving rather more quickly afterwards.

"People will recognise these screens, recognise that something's happening behind it, but actually realise it won't impact on their motorway - there's nothing to see, and we want to keep the motorways flowing."

RAC Foundation director, Stephen Glaister, said the use of the screens should be welcomed.

"Incident screens reduce disruption to traffic following an incident [and] assist the emergency services," he said.

"Ensuring that motorists not involved in an incident complete their journeys safely and on time is important.

"The economy relies on an efficient road network. Traffic jams following incidents increase frustration and the risk of low speed collisions."

#VisitEastbourne - take in the fresh sea air & enjoy stunning coastal views

One of the things I've thoroughly enjoyed this Christmas apart from the usual family festivities is the time to get out and about with the dog and appreciate our stunning surroundings in daylight.

There are few places I know that can offer the combination of rolling green and pleasant downland with coastal sea views in the way Eastbourne does.

Whilst I've worked around Kent and Sussex in a variety of places, I've lived in Eastbourne all my life and I never tire of our picturesque landscape so I thought that it would be a good thing to share some of the views I've enjoyed this week with my Twitter followers and Facebook friends.

So whether you live local or have never been to Eastbourne, I urge you to dust off the cobwebs, take a lungful of fresh sea air and enjoy a visit to Eastbourne.

Looking towards Belle Tout Lighthouse from Birling Gap

Beachy Head Lighthouse

Eastbourne Downland (from Beachy Head to Birling Gap & the Sevensisters)
The Gateway to the South Downs National Park

Martello Tower at Sovereign Harbour North

Sovereign Harbour Mouth

North Harbour Beaches with views to Pevensey Bay and Bexhill-on-Sea

Wild Ponies grazing up at Birling Gap until February 2013

Looking down on Birling Gap and on towards the Sevensisters

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Graphene research gets £21.5m investment fund

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced extra funding to boost the UK's development of the so-called "super-material" graphene.

It is one of the lightest yet strongest and most conductive materials known to man - and was originally discovered by scientists at Manchester University.

Now other universities will be asked to research potential commercial uses.

Mr Osborne said the £21.5m investment fund would aim to take the technology from the lab to the factory floor.

He has previously pledged money for such research, including £50m in 2011.

Graphene is made of sheets of carbon just one atom thick, and has outstanding mechanical strength and electronic properties.

Manchester University academics Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for demonstrating its properties.

It is hoped that the material will be used in a wide array of industrial and everyday applications.

Government funding

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has identified the most promising graphene-related research projects in British universities to benefit from state funding.

The University of Cambridge has been awarded more than £12m for research into graphene flexible electronics and opto-electronics, which could include things like touch-screens and other display devices.

London's Imperial College will receive over £4.5m to investigate aerospace applications of graphene.

The other successful projects are based at Durham University, the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter and Royal Holloway.

The universities will work with industrial partners including Nokia, BAE Systems, Procter & Gamble, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce, Dyson, Sharp and Philips Research, which will together bring in a further £12m in investment.

Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had been "enormous competition" for the graphene research to be done elsewhere in the world, rather than the UK.

He said: "We had to act very quickly... to step in and say we're going to provide funding here in Britain for that activity. That's an example of actually actively backing a winner to keep it in the UK."

Mr Osborne said there were several ways in which the UK could become an attractive location for scientific research, including more financial backing from the government, protecting spending on science, and more investment in big capital science projects.

He added that Britain's universities - the "jewels in the crown" of the UK economy - needed to be protected.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Tower's Jubilee raven released

A raven given to the Queen to mark the Diamond Jubilee has been released at the Tower of London.

The new recruit, named Jubilee, was a gift from Martin Harris, a Somerset breeder who has been supplying ravens to the tower for 12 years.

Seven of the eight resident birds have been bred by Mr Harris to fulfil King Charles II's decree that at least six ravens should be kept at the tower at all times.

Now, after more than six months of settling into "tower life", Jubilee has been released from his cage to enjoy "the freedom of the tower".

'Most pampered birds'

"Raven Jubilee is doing very well and has now been trained to come out of his cage and meet all the visitors," Chris Skaife, the tower's raven master, said.

"But it takes years for the birds to really get to know members of the raven team and for us to get to know them and their idiosyncratic ways."

He added: "They are the most pampered birds in the country - and one of the most intelligent.

"They gang up on small children with crisps at the tower - but they don't like cheese and onion - so they'll open the packet and dip the crisps in water to get rid of the taste."

Jubilee joined the tower's "privileged" resident birds in May and has just recently been released
Looked after by a team of four, night and day, the birds are fed a diet of 6oz (170g) of raw meat and bird formula biscuits soaked in animal blood each day.

And once a week they enjoy an egg, plus the occasional rabbit.

It was more than a decade ago that Mr Harris was contacted by the Tower of London's raven master to provide birds for the historic visitor attraction. He thought it was a "hoax call" and hung up on him.

'Really smart'

He said supplying the tower's birds was as "good as it gets for a raven breeder".

"They are really smart creatures. They can mimic police sirens and take a mobile phone apart in 30 seconds and they're so inquisitive and so nosy," he said.

"But if they got too friendly with humans, they could end up assuming everything was theirs and be sitting on people's shoulders and terrorising visitors.

"So we leave them with their parents to rear them, so they are not imprinted and it gives them a bit of wildness and makes them a bit aloof."

Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the tower it would crumble, and a great disaster befall the UK.

But occasionally an enlisted raven has to be dismissed.

Pearl, a female, was installed in the tower in June 2011 but had to be returned to Mr Harris for a course of "confidence building".

"Pearl didn't cope well - she was getting bullied by the other ravens so I've got her back here and she's in with my own pet raven and holding her own," said Mr Harris.

"I've been leaving food out for her to come and 'steal' - that's point scoring for ravens and that's building her confidence as well.

"We had another one, he was really smart, he came back to us too but he was an out-and-out thief and didn't do well in the tower either."

A second male bird, bred by Mr Harris and named Gripp after Charles Dickens' pet raven, has also been enlisted by the tower and has been released along with Jubilee.

Prince Charles pays tribute to our armed forces

The Prince of Wales has told British forces fighting in Afghanistan that the nation owes them "an everlasting debt of gratitude".

He thanked them for their "fortitude and relentless courage".

In a pre-recorded message broadcast on radio on 26 December, he said that all troops serving "in far off lands" were in his thoughts and prayers.

He joked that he had received a "very rare and precious letter" from Prince Harry, serving in Afghanistan.

His 28-year-old son is an Apache helicopter pilot, serving as part of the 100-strong 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps in Helmand province.

Charles's broadcast was aired on the British Forces Broadcasting Service radio on the Total Ops Connection programme, broadcast across the world from Camp Bastion.

He said: "I... wanted to pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution made by those of you who belong to our Armed Forces, in all sorts of different parts of the world.

"Nowhere is your fortitude and relentless courage more clearly on display than in Afghanistan, where your resilience, patience and determination to see the job through - usually in impossibly difficult conditions and circumstances - is, quite simply, humbling."

The heir to the throne is colonel-in-chief of a number of regiments serving in Afghanistan and he said he knew about the hardships troops face because of the regular reports from his units - and the occasional contact with Harry.

He said: "I am well aware of the discomfort and privations you all endure with seemingly endless reserves of good humour.

"In addition to the intense heat and dust of the summer and the freezing winters, you face the constant, terrifying threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), attacks from rockets, grenades and small arms fire almost every day - and sometimes these attacks come from infiltrators hidden among those who are supposed to be working alongside you as allies.

"And yet you all seem to bounce back in an almost unbelievable way, despite the setbacks and vicious insurgent attacks."

Prince Charles' elder son, William, also serves with the armed forces - as a search and rescue pilot with the RAF.

He said: "With two sons currently serving in the Armed Forces, one of whom is with you all out there, I really do have at least some understanding of what your loved ones on the 'home front' are going through."

He said servicemen and women could keep in touch with relatives through phone calls and the internet "or, in the case of my younger son, to receive a very rare and precious letter in answer to mine".

Cameron's olive branch to the Church in Christian Christmas message

David Cameron adopted the most overtly Christian tone of any prime minister in recent memory with a Christmas address speaking of faith giving hope to “countless millions”.

Speaking at the end of a turbulent year for relations between church and state, he signalled a personal religious faith, referring to Jesus as “the light of all mankind”.

In language common in US public life but rare in British politics, he spoke of his own “hope and prayer” at Christmas while describing the Bible as “God’s word”.

He also hailed the euphoria of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee as well as the dedication of the armed forces and emergency services as he emphasised that Christmas was an “opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us”.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said Mr Cameron should be applauded for having “nailed his colours to the mast”.

Meanwhile the Church of England welcomed his reminder of the “true meaning of Christmas”.

But it comes after an almost uniquely acrimonious year for relations between the Coalition and religious groups which were dominated by the issue of same-sex marriage, which pitted the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church directly against the Government.
The Government’s failure to support Christians seeking the right to wear cross in a case at European Court of Human Rights also led to accusations that the Government had turned its back on religion.

One leading Catholic bishop recently likened Mr Cameron to the Roman emperor Nero, who sanctioned the persecution of Christians, while evangelicals accused the Government of running its consultation on same-sex marriage “like an election in a tinpot state”.

Last week the former leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, said he wondered whether Mr Cameron’s “steadiness of purpose” could be trusted.

And at midnight mass tonight the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, will draw direct comparisons between Government plans and the ideologies of Nazism and Communism, which he will say, threatened “Christian civilisation” in the name of “progress”.

Religion has long proved a thorny subject in British politics. Tony Blair, spoke little of his own faith while in office, while his communications director Alastair Campbell famously said that Downing Street did not “do God”.

Mr Cameron has previously described his faith as “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns” meaning that “it sort of comes and goes”.

He said he was both “racked with doubts” but “sort of fundamentally” believes.

Mr Cameron attempted to build bridges with the churches earlier this year, including sending a high profile delegation to Rome to meet the Pope where Baroness Warsi spoke out against “militant secularism”.

In a personal message issued by Downing Street, Mr Cameron described 2012 as “an extraordinary year for our country” both cheering the Queen “to the rafters” and “showing the world what we’re made of” in the sporting arena.

"But Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him,” he said.

"The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.”

Singling out the dedication of servicemen and women on deployment in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the emergency services, he said: “When we are celebrating with family and friends, they and many others are all working on our behalf and deserve our thoughts and appreciation.

“So however you celebrate this time of year, it is my hope and prayer that you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.”

Lord Carey, who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Mr Cameron’s plans to rewrite the marriage laws, said the Prime Minister should be applauded for the overtly Christian tone of his message.

He said that, despite their disagreements over marriage, he believed that the Prime Minister as a “good man” with a sincere faith.

“I’ve never doubted that,” he said.

“There are Christians who disagree with me on marriage and one has to respect people who come at it from a different point of view.

“My complaint is that politicians have been so reticent about their own faith so it is terrific when a prime minister nails his colours to the mast in that kind of way.

“It is a good reminder from a senior politician that there are values that transcend us all.
“I think he is a good man and he deserves our encouragement.

“Even if I think he is wrong on marriage this is a time to face up to the things that unite us.”

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas to all my Blog readers

I've been writing the 'View from the Chamber' blog for a year now and thoroughly enjoy the interaction I have had from friends, family, neighbours, constituents, political colleagues and those living and working throughout Sussex, England and elsewhere in the world.

Having passed the milestone of 25,000 page views last week it seems clear that readers must be finding something of interest on the blog but I will continue to try and find a right mix of local an national news items, politics and my passionate support for supporting local businesses and British products.

Merry Christmas to you all and your families, I shall be going off line now for a couple of days whilst I enjoy Christmas with my family but resume blogging on the 27th December.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Message of hope by new Arch Bishop

The incoming leader of the Church of England has released a message of hope, reminding the faithful of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Rt Rev Justin Welby, 56, current Bishop of Durham, becomes the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury in March.
He said: “In tough times like these, it can sometimes be difficult to focus on the positive; talk of recession, news of redundancies and reports of worldwide conflict grinds us down.

“However, Christmas is a time for celebration.
“The shepherds, poor as you could be even in those days, went to celebrate what had happened in a manger.
“Christmas has been associated with partying not only because the early church took over the festival of Saturnalia, which was traditionally a time for merrymaking, but also because what is being talked about is such good news. The best parties have something solid to celebrate, not just a desire to get out of one’s mind.

“The shepherds went to see Jesus and went away celebrating because God had come to be with them. “They were optimistic. Hope lived.”

He said he felt a sense of optimism when he saw people staffing food banks, sharing things. He said all of us could pop in on a neighbour or give something to someone who has had a rough year, “make space for them to have hope and joy”.

He said next year would be momentous for him, adding: “I did not seek the role but I will do everything in my power to ensure that I make a difference.”
Bishop Welby’s sermon will be tweeted as part of the Christmas Starts With Christ campaign.

EU backs down over MOT plans

European Union bureaucrats have backed down over plans to impose MOT tests on millions of British caravans and classic cars.

Transport Minister Stephen Hammond helped secure the deal which will see drivers spared the threat of having their vehicles taken off the road if they have been even slightly modified since leaving the factory.

If implemented, the European Commission MOT proposal would have cost British taxpayers an estimated £1billion over five years in test fees.

The Department for Transport successfully argued the costs would far outweigh any road safety benefits, forcing Brussels officials to water down their original plans. Instead, UK regulators will be able to continue to use their own judgment while historic vehicles will continue to be exempt if they were registered before 1960.

The move also spares UK garages the additional costs of having to buy equipment to examine specific components. The new deal needs to be reviewed by the European Parliament before final agreement.

This is a victory for common sense
Mr Hammond
Mr Hammond said: “This is a victory for common sense. The original proposals would have hit British businesses and motorists with massive additional costs for no good reason.

“The concessions we have secured will ensure that cost burdens are kept as low as possible, enabling the UK to maintain its proven testing regime and high road safety standards while providing some additional safety benefits across the EU.”

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Scottish quangos spend £113 million on PR, overseas travel, consultants and hospitality

Scotland’s quangos spend £113 million per year on public relations, overseas travel, consultants and hospitality without having to explain the vast sums to taxpayers, according to a damning report published today.

Reform Scotland, a think tank, said it was the first time the full scale of expenditure in the four areas had been disclosed and blamed an “accountability gap” for the manner in which the bodies were spending public money.

While elected ministers are responsible for the performance of central government departments, the report said the arms-length nature of quangos meant there was too little scrutiny of their £14 billion annual budget.

According to official figures, quangos spend around £66.8 million per year on public relations, more than £3.7 million annually on overseas travel and nearly £2.5 million on hospitality and entertainment.

A total of £40.2 million was allocated for external consultants, bringing the total amount of taxpayers’ money spent on the four areas to more than £113.2 million.

Among the examples of the expenditure uncovered in the report was £300,000 on overseas travel by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which is responsible for drawing up school exams.

Scottish Water spends £6.7 million of public money a year on consultants, while Creative Scotland, the country’s troubled arts quango, spends £209,000 annually on public relations.

Scotland’s health boards spent more than £1 million per year on hospitality and entertaining, while Scottish National Heritage allocated nearly £2.8 million for external consultants.

Reform Scotland said the quangos should be either abolished completely and their functions absorbed back into central government, or replaced by new bodies that sign “transparency” contracts with ministers.

The public could then hold the latter to account for their performance. Geoff Mawdsley, the think tank’s director, said: “We have revealed significant sums of public money being spent without sufficient public accountability.”

While ministers and independent bodies are answerable for the money they spend, he said: “Spending by quangos sits in an accountability gap in between. This is public money – taxpayers’ money – and those who spend it should be accountable.”

Reform Scotland was able to draw together the figures for the first time after legislation was passed requiring each quango to publish its expenditure in the four categories.

Creative Scotland, which has been embroiled in a crisis that led to the resignation of the chief executive and director of creative development, spent more than £550,000 on the four, including £250,000 on consultants and £49,500 on overseas travel.

Spending by the SQA is nearly £2 million annually, £1.5 million of which is allocated to public relations. Skills Development Scotland, a training quango, spent nearly £1.5 million on PR and more than £1 million on consultants.

Helen Lennox, Scottish Water’s head of corporate affairs, said rejected the report’s findings, stating: “No other public body is subject to such a demanding regulatory regime.”

A Creative Scotland spokesman said overseas travel is required to promote Scottish arts and culture, for example at foreign film festivals, while consultants are needed on schemes where “objective expertise” is required.

An SQA spokesman said the quango is paid to help “the development of education and skills in a variety of countries.”

A Scottish Government said the number of quangos has been cut from 199 to 144, with plans to cut the total further to 112 by 2014. A spokesman said mergers between the bodies have saved £78 million since 2007.