Friday, 3 March 2017

Politicians can't just play a 'fake news' card when things get tough - my Catholic Universe column


Last week, in a quite corner of Cumbria, a seismic political event happened. The Conservative Party, the party of Government, won a by-election for the parliamentary seat of Copeland from their official opposition, depending on how you measure these things the first time that such a victory had taken place in almost 140 years.

A seat that Labour had held since 1935 had become vacant by virtue of the fact that the sitting MP, the extremely likeable Jamie Reed, had found himself a new job. The ensuing by-election campaign, from a Labour perspective at least, was one of the most distastefully fought in modern times.

Amidst the leaflets from Labour implying that babies would die if you were to vote Conservative there was great discussion as to whether the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and by extension his party supported the nuclear power industry which so many jobs in the constituency rely upon.

It was a perfectly reasonable question to ask especially considering that there was indeed quite clear evidence to support that in the past, at least, Mr Corbyn had been very much against the industry.

When Mr Corbyn first campaigned to become Labour leader he issued a manifesto document called ‘Protecting our Planet’. The document clearly states “I am opposed to fracking and to new nuclear on the basis of the dangers posed to our ecosystems” before going on to say “New nuclear power will mean the continued production of dangerous nuclear waste and an increased risk from nuclear accident and nuclear proliferation”.

As many readers are aware I am no fan of Jeremy Corbyn but it seems to me that he is known for his principled positions and his policy document seems to honour a stance which, whilst I am not in agreement, is equally clear and unambiguous.

I certainly don’t intend on writing a dissection of Labour’s shocking electoral loss here. Those critical of Mr Corbyn will see him as a key reason for the defeat, his supporters will not be swayed no matter the evidence. But I do want to focus on one particular element of the post mortem.

On the Friday morning after the Thursday night before one of Mr Corbyn’s principle supporters, Emily Thornberry MP, was sent out to the waiting media to defend him.

Appearing on Sky News Ms Thornberry said “Word had got out the Jeremy wasn’t in favour of nuclear power. That isn’t true. That’s what you call fake news.”

And it is that term ‘Fake News’ that I want us to consider today.

Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn it was undoubtedly reasonable, given his previous statements on the nuclear power industry, to question whether he was supportive of the main industry and source of employment in that part of Cumbria.

When Mr Corbyn was subsequently interviewed by ITV News in late January he was asked specifically on five occasions whether he supported a new nuclear power plant at Moorside in the constituency. Each time he deflected the question and refused to answer directly.

With both his previous statements and his evasiveness in response to direct questioning it cannot therefore be possibly true that Mr Corbyn’s positioning on nuclear power was ‘fake news’.

In saying it was Ms Thornberry was unequivocally doing something we are sadly seeing more and more of. Trying to claim that undeniable facts are in some way false, trying to blame the media for reporting inconvenient truths.

Of course the spectre of fake news isn’t something that started necessarily on this side of the Atlantic and in many ways the Labour propaganda machine are something of novices.

For real mastery of the term ‘fake news’ we must look to the new President of the United States, Donald Trump.

It is almost impossible to quantify the role that this new term played in the election and subsequent administration of Mr Trump. A quick search on Google for the term ‘Donald Trump Fake News’ will result in over 55 million hits.

Every time the media challenge the Trump administration, often in the face of demonstrable facts, look no further than the question of how many people attended President Trump’s inauguration, spokesmen or the President himself will fire back that the news outlets themselves are being driven by a ‘fake news’ agenda. That they are the enemies of the people.

And, simply put, things are getting far, far worse. Last weekend an off-camera press briefing from the White House press secretary Sean Spicer saw news organisations, largely those most seen to be most critical of the President, excluded from the event.

Respected news outlets as diverse as CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, Daily Mail and BBC amongst others were shut out whilst those seen as more supportive of the administration notably including Fox News and the new media organisation Breitbart, whom President Trump’s closest advisor Steve Bannon is an ex-Chairman, were very much on the list to get in.

There is a hugely important point here. The job of a news organisations is never to acquiesce to politicians but to investigate and challenge.

Clearly all too often politicians would very much like to ignore and deflect the questions that journalists ask of them. It does not however mean that those questions are invalid or that the news that arises from them is fake.

It’s undoubtedly true that news organisations have political stances whether that is the left leaning Guardian through to the more conservative Daily Mail. We can broadly agree with those editorial positions or choose to seek our news from an outlet more in tune with our own beliefs.

What is indisputable however is that each one of those bodies excluded by the Trump administration follow a journalistic code of ethics of properly sourcing and researching stories that has been passed down over the generations.

Each of those shut out organisations has ethical standards far higher than many of the new news media sources that we see proliferating our social media pages and as consumers of news we have duty to give those organisations the regard that they warrant.

It is an extremely dangerous precedent to accept the shutting out of mainstream media from important press-conferences just as it is an inconvenient truth that more and more politicians are decrying stories they happen not like as being ‘fake’.

The Catholic Universe is a publication which has been published for well over 150 years. Every one of us who writes for this esteemed newspaper is conscious of the need for research, for accurate reporting and for balanced commentary. Because of that, I am sure it goes without saying, we are proud of the reputation that we have built for decency and relevance.

Every time that I put pen to paper, or these days start typing, I know that what we are doing is more than ‘fake news’ created to fit in with our editorial leanings.

There is undoubtedly an, at times, awkward relationship between politics and the media. As someone with a foot in both camps I know only too well that sometimes I would like the press to report things I say on different ways just as I would like politicians to give straight answers.

But ultimately I understand that it is far better for us all to have a media who can challenge rather than one in the pockets of our leaders.

‘Fake News’ is, far too fast, becoming the get out of jail card for politicians who seek to deflect their own failings. We cannot  accept that narrative or be fooled by it.





  

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Chips - my Whitwick & Surrounding Areas Community Voice column


A couple of weeks ago I went to pick my daughter up from her dance class. The studio is about a mile from our house and as she left the building on this particular cold, crisp night she noticed that my car was missing.

“How are going to get home?” she asked with a somewhat perturbed look on her face.

“I’ve got a special treat for you,” was my reply “we’re walking.”

Now to the vast majority of 12 year olds walking for pleasure is something of an alien experience but I had a trick up my sleeve. We were going to relive one of my most vivid childhood memories, we were going to stop for chips en route and walk home devouring them, their heat warming our hands as our cheeks froze, the smell of salt and vinegar tickling our nostrils and ever so slightly burning our lips.

I had travelled back thirty years, only this time I was the parent, what an amazing feeling to be making memories from the simplest of pleasures.

When I was growing up my mum used to drag me in tow to her ‘Ladies Bright Hour’ meeting every Wednesday night at Thringstone Methodist Chapel the bribe would be that if I was good I would get to visit Ruby’s for my own portion of open chips for the way home.

By my childhood of course the eponymous Ruby had retired and her shop had been purchased by a young Cypriot couple, Michael and Sonia Demetriou. Today, forty years later, they are still at the shop every bit as much a fixture of village life as Ruby had been in her era.

I went to catch up with the couple who first moved in to start their new lives taking over the long established business on 3rd October 1977, it must have been a daunting prospect considering Sonia had only given birth to their eldest of what eventually turned out to be five children just two weeks earlier.

“Things were certainly different then,” they tell me. “Chips were 14 pence, a fish was just 17p.”

Of course the way that we live our lives has forced changes to the business too. I reminisce about the times as a young man I could stagger out of The Queens Head at nearly midnight and still get some supper on a Friday night.

Michael smiles “Our busiest times used to be late at night when people were coming out of the pubs, but nowadays everybody seems to come at tea time and things drop off after 8.00.”

In the early 1990’s Michael and Sonia took a sabbatical returning to Cyprus for 4 years whilst the shop was run by Sonia’s brother, Clem.  On their return in 1995 the couple planned some major changes to the business, the menu saw the addition of the now legendary doner kebabs and southern fried chicken but perhaps most notably the fa├žade of the shop changed.

An extension brought with it neon signage, now familiar throughout North West Leicestershire and perhaps most notably glorious summer flower displays and at Christmas festive illuminations that are the pride of the village.

But through it all the heart of the business doesn’t change. Fish and chips are still produced in the same gleaming fryers Ruby used in her time. Michael and Sonia, now ably assisted by their son, are very proud of their five star hygiene rating. The quality remains as high as ever, the portions as generous, and you’ll still hear Sonia’s catchphrase “You wanna bag?” as she passes food over the counter to you with a warm smile.

I ask about retirement, their son Andy interjects “I’ll retire before my parents do!”

Michael agrees, the Demetriou’s and this Thringstone institution are planning on sticking around for a long time to come.

Quango scare story must not put us off honouring our local heroes - my Catholic Universe column


You have no idea, dear reader, of the journalistic bullet you have dodged in reading my column this week.


For probably the first time in my life the profession in which I studied and gained qualifications is relevant and I was, until I sat down to write this column, going to to stun you with my knowledge of obscure legislation in order to make the point that the media should indeed turn its attention a little more often to one of the largest burdens facing business in Britain today.


I am talking about our system, to give it it’s proper name, of Non-Domestic Rating; Business Rates to you and me and it’s associated domestic sibling, Council Tax.


Now I worked in the field of local government revenue collection for the best part of twenty years and I literally have forgotten more about it than most of us ever pretend to know. In fairness my memory isn’t what it once was and I am the first to concede it isn’t all that impressive a claim.


Nevertheless, I am sure that none of you will have missed that a Business Rates revaluation is due to come into force on the 1 April and virtually the whole media is railing against the potential damage that it could do to our high streets. For the first time ever my profession is current.


I was going to regale you with the inequity of the business rates system. To tell you that yes, some businesses see massive increases to their rates whilst others see reductions. 


I was going to shock you in the fact that the transition scheme introduced to protect taxpayers from excessive increases is directly funded from taxpayers with significant reductions, that if your rates should have gone down you may never in actual fact feel the full benefit because you are protecting others from increases.


And most of all I was going to tell the current furore over business rates is mainly caused by the scheduled five yearly revaluation having been delayed for two years and posit the question that if this is what it’s like with a revaluation after just seven years what disaster is there going to be when the government finally gets round to revaluing domestic properties after nearly thirty years. It will be chaotic.


I was going to say all of that in even greater depth than I already have. Just imagine how relevant albeit boring it would have been. I was going to do that right up until the minute that I started getting in the mind set to write by flicking through my newspaper and you, dear reader, dodged my journalistic bullet.


You see there was a story in the newspaper which caused my normal placid self to rage, something which I care passionately about and I venture that others may too. Let me explain.


Nearly thirty years ago now, back in 1991, a young girl in my town called Ruth Langham heard about the plight of orphans who to all intents and purposes had been left to rot in run down orphanages in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania.


Ruth was visibly moved by the story and like many girls in their late teens and early twenties pledged to do something about it. The big difference was that unlike many girls Ruth actually did.


Ruth worked with children and decided to go to Romania, with the support of her family, to do whatever she could to help the desperate ones she had seen on television.


When Ruth arrived in the country she met eighteen month old twins Dumitru and Ion. The brothers had been born with cleft palates and learning difficulties and Dumitru in particular was in need of an operation.


Ruth arranged for the operation and begun plans to adopt the boys, a pair of infants with complex needs who may otherwise have been left in an institution.


Ruth and her family set up a charity and raised funds to help other Romanian orphans. I doubt that there was anyone in my town who didn’t know her or the amazing things that she had done. She had helped so many people and had become a mum to two children who may well have never known the love that she gave them if she hadn’t done what she did.


Ruth was a real life hero and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought the disease and saw her two sons become young men but then in 2013, aged just 42, she lost her battle.


Of course I knew of Ruth’s remarkable story and resolved to commemorate her memory in the only way as a councillor that I knew how.


I wrote to Ruth’s parents and asked for their and the twins permission to request that a street be name after her as a permanent memorial to her memory and the role that she had played in our community. 


Ruth’s family kindly agreed and now I am very proud to say that my town contains Ruth Langham Court, a small but lasting token to her memory.


It’s often said that to all but our immediate families the legacies that we leave are forgotten within just two or three generations. I firmly believe that for those who make notable contributions to our towns and villages there is no greater honour than dedicating permanent memorials. To my mind at least it certainly beats a developer concocting some ludicrous name to make an edge of town estate seem somehow idyllic.


So you can imagine my anger when I sat down to write this morning to read a story in The Daily Telegraph entitled ‘Streets should not be named after local heroes in case the are later found to be paedophiles, councils told’.


The story outlines how Geoplace, a government quango responsible for the National Land and Property Gazeteer, supported by a spokesman from the Local Government Association have issued guidelines to local councils that places should not be named after individuals in case they are subsequently linked to ‘inappropriate activities’.


The numerous stories that you will find in the media all cite the many sites named in memory of Jimmy Savile which have since been renamed after the revelations concerning his predatory behaviour with young children.


The stories go on to cite the cost to the taxpayer when names have had to be changed.


But I have a message for those civil servants at Geoplace or members of the Local Government Association or indeed councils. The vast, vast majority of those honoured for notable works are not paedophiles but remarkable, inspirational people who have made our communities richer in many, many ways. They deserve to be recognised and we have a duty to make sure their contributions affect future generations.

It is probably fair to say that it is difficult for me to be anti-establishment when by most definitions I am part of the establishment itself. Being a councillor, a writer, a charity trustee does the sort of thing to you.


But every now and then you hear a story which makes your blood boil and this is one.


How can you let the perversions of one man overshadow the amazing work of not just of Ruth Langham but the countless other people memorialised up and down the country for the works they have done or in many cases the lives that they have given.


No, on this one the quangos must be put back in their boxes, the right to honour people should not be removed.


The good news is, the Telegraph reports, that Marcus Jones, the Minister for Local Government is against the guidance but these type of guidelines have a funny way of being adopted by local government, usually in the name of ‘best practice’.


It’s not very often that I urged you, dear reader, to take action but for once please do. Write to you local MP and local councillor and demand that these silly guidelines are given the due consideration that they deserve. 


I would hate it if the next time a councillor proposed naming a street after a fallen soldier they were told ‘it’s not allowed we’ll call it Hedgehog Grove instead’.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Society has changed and now it looks like we love Big Brother - my Catholic Universe column

This week two seemingly completely unrelated issues have caught my attention. Both of them are the type of news story which start conversations in the workplace, or the pub, or the back of church after mass and both seem to be the type that after a brief discussion we simply go on with our lives.

It seems to me however that both stories indicate perfectly the changing society we are living in. Let me explain.

A few days ago the BBC, along with most if not all daily newspapers, ran a story proclaiming that two unnamed schools working alongside the University of Portsmouth had been conducting a research experiment where class teachers had been issued with police style body cameras to see if they helped in controlling bad behaviour.

The story, in some quarters at least, was seen as a direct response to the past criticisms of outgoing OFSTED boss, Sir Michael Wilshaw, of the curse of low level classroom disruption and the average of one hour a day’s teaching time which pupils can lose as a direct result.

It struck me that such a story is likely to evoke from readers and listeners a black and white, binary response and I undertook to ask people their views on whether such an example of ‘big brother’ watching our children was something that they found palatable. The outcome of those conversations was something of an eyeopener.

I corresponded with a headteacher of a secondary school who told me “Awful idea my concern, teachers will lose professionalism. Reliance on monitoring over than building positive relationships…schools are meant to be strong communities. Not police states”

Another correspondent, a perfectly decent political activist, told me “It sounds thoroughly illiberal, that’s what it sounds…I think parents would be appalled.”

But here’s the funny thing. I undertook to ask a group of parents their views and their response was somewhat different. One mum told me “There is a huge problem now with parents refusing to believe their children are disruptive, blaming teachers and allowing this behaviour. Creating a culture of teachers who no longer teach but spend their days in conflict with children who have no parental barriers…show them the evidence and protect our teachers! No one should fear this unless their children are going to get busted!”

Another mum said “I feel it’s a great idea and an opportunity for parents and teachers to truly analyse behaviour watching it back and in doing so let’s hope they can work together to resolve issues and and importantly support the children demonstrating unwanted and inappropriate behaviours which impact on not just themselves but others too.”

Overall there was far more support for the initiative from, for the want of a better word, ‘ordinary parents’ than there was from political types or education professionals.

Another story has caught my eye over past week too.

Last Monday The Guardian ran an article outlining how under new guidelines NHS hospitals have now been instructed to charge overseas patients for non-urgent care up front.

In a complete about face from current practice from this April onwards hospitals will be asked to check patients entitlement to NHS care and, in the words of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS – as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does. So today we are announcing plans to change the law which means those who aren’t eligible for free care will be asked to pay upfront for non-urgent treatment.

As you would expect with the more politically radical parts of the medical profession a boycott seems to be on the cards. One prominent doctor wrote on Twitter – seemingly forgetting the guidance that the new rules apply only to non-urgent medicine “Well I won’t be asking for their passport before resuscitating them, thanks.”

Whilst another wrote “What the hell? This is absolutely disgusting, the NHS should not be actively working to kick migrants out.”

Now putting aside for one minute the cost to our NHS of the treatment of foreign patients, according to the National Audit Office around £150 million pounds a year goes unpaid with  the expense borne by you and me, there is a wider question as to whether we ‘ordinary’ Brits would be happy to hand over our details to prove that we are entitled to medical care.

There is of course relatively little evidence to determine one way or the other.

Research carried out by the BBC and Ipsos shows that 74% of us are happy with the idea of increasing NHS charges for those from outside the UK. It doesn’t unfortunately go on to say how we might respond when asked for our passports.

Once again I pointedly went out to ask what people I came into contact with thought.

And here is the shocker, time and time again I encountered one very similar answer: “We should have identification cards.” The people I spoke with at least thought it entirely reasonable that we should carry around a document which proves to those in authority who we are.

Now to those amongst us for who memory is no longer our strongest asset I would remind you that indeed Identity Cards very nearly came to pass in this country just over ten years ago.

The then Labour government, whirling in a cloud of anti-terror laws, argued that the benefits of such a scheme would be significant. Indeed back in 2003 61% of those who responded to the Government’s consultation on the introduction of ID cards were supportive.

Of course over the years public support slipped, and even though legislation was enacted by the time the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010, the ‘thoroughly illiberal’ programme was cancelled.

But here is the important part ten years down the line less and less of us, it seems to me, are concerned about ‘big brother’ watching us..

If we bother to think about it we know we are caught on CCTV countless times each day, but we don’t think about, because we also know that such cameras play an important part in our lives whether it is helping to apprehend villains  right through to keeping us informed of whether traffic is moving.

To many of us the only time we time we come into contact with biometrics is when we return from holiday and marvel at how quickly we can get through customs these days.

Most of us might think about sinister foreign governments stealing our data but then we think ‘there are 60 million records in this country, why would Russia want my information?’

Most of us understand that there are potential drawbacks to any system but when the good outweighs the bad, as it seems to in our modern day surveillance culture we not only live with it but we accept it.

In the coming months and years we will see far more stories where greater surveillance is touted as a proposed solution. My guess is that society will unflinchingly accept it.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

On joining the Conservative Party - the way forward for me, the way forward for Britain

As a lifelong Labour voter, and some time Labour councillor, I did something today which for many years I thought that I would never do.

I joined the Conservative Party.

For me it is the logical end to a journey which I have been on for a number years.

I want to explain as best as I can what has brought me to making that journey, that crossing of the great political divide.

It can be summed up in three words: decency, principles and self.

Decency

Back in early June 2013 I had been the leader of the Labour group at North West Leicestershire District Council for just over two years. One day I received a letter in the post from, Richard Blunt, my opposite number on the Conservative benches who happened to be the Leader of the Council, about the sensitive planning policy of making provision for travellers, a serious problem facing the district.

Without disclosing too much information because of a lack of local plan the district council had been losing appeal after appeal once planning decisions had been adjudicated by the inspectorate.

The Council leader was understandably concerned about this state of affairs but also acutely conscious of the fallout if his group were to positively address the problem. I was conscious of the need for the Tory administration to move towards resolving the issue, something that would have been difficult for them without cross party support,  and together we agreed that the mature, grown up thing to do for the good of the district was to work together.

I stipulated that given the potential repercussions I wanted my minority group to have equal standing with the Tory administration in a working party we were looking at establishing to work towards resolution on an evidence based basis. To his eternal credit Richard agreed and said he would take our plans back to his group.

On Monday 17th June 2013 I received notification from the Leader that his Conservative group had agreed to our plans, a big concession from them given the natural suspicion between the two parties. All I had to do was deliver the agreement of my group.

But I couldn’t do it. An hour of fierce debate which swayed between ‘it’s the right thing too do for our district’ and ‘let the Tories hang, we will benefit at the ballot box’ eventually came down narrowly on the side of putting perceived electoral advantage over the residents of North West Leicestershire.

I was disgusted that local Labour politicians who purported to be working for their communities would seek to cynically manipulate big issues for a few votes.

The facts stood for themselves, the Tories hadn’t taken such a cynical approach. They had reached out for unity to deal with a difficult issue, Labour had turned their backs.

I resigned as leader of my group on the spot. Of course there was the usual story of ‘work commitments’ but the truth is that was the night I had seen the difference between politicking and decency demonstrated to me perfectly.

Principles

When you become involved in local politics you realise, comparatively, how little power you actually have.

You are bound by the legislation created by higher powers (in particular when they tell you there are things that you MUST do), you are bound by the simple fact that you can’t spend more money than you collect and you are inextricably tied to one simple rule: we govern by consensus and whatever we do must ultimately be acceptable to us, the general public.

I have said time and time again that the easiest thing in the world is to be against things. Evoking that truism that ‘we oppose in poetry, we govern in prose’ running even the smallest of parish councils is constantly a battle of what you want to do versus what you can do.

When Theresa May took to the steps of Downing Street last July she gave a masterclass in that tough balancing act.

She spoke about the steps to improving social justice that had been achieved under the previous government. Indeed, Roman Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nicholls highlighted the work Mrs May  had done personally on human trafficking in his comments on the Prime Minister taking office.

Mrs May spoke passionately about the challenges facing the impoverished right here in Britain.

As a white, working-class boy myself, a boy who went to state school and didn’t go to university I was physically taken aback that the plight of the generations that followed mine in the kind of area that I represent would become, perhaps for the first time, a priority for our government.

Mrs May was speaking to me.

If it takes miles to change the course of a supertanker, just think how much more is needed to change the course of a country.

In that speech on the steps of Downing Street I knew that keeping the country on track, both fiscally or socially, wouldn’t be easy. Change is often glacial, but I heard that the priorities and direction were the right ones for Britain and for the first time as a Labour voter I thought that a Tory, Mrs May, was the right person to steer the ship.

Self

I’m not going to lie. I’ve joined the Conservative Party because I am a little selfish too.

I want the best for me and the best for my family and I believe that now the Conservatives are the best placed to deliver that.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘just about managing’ and, to an extent, that includes me.

My wife and I work hard. We want a nice house. We want to take our children on holiday once a year. We want to be able to choose to pay for them to do extra-curricular stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s no more than millions of others up and down the country want.

But it’s been tough over these past few years, it’s been tough for others too.

As a County Councillor I know only too well how difficult finances are at the minute. My own council has determined to increase council tax by 4%.  Leicestershire residents will find it tough and I know no one in the Conservative group is taking delight from such an increase.

It shows the difference between the Conservatives who understand the difficulty for working families and Labour who called for an even steeper rise.

It’s the difference between struggling to pay more because you know ultimately it is necessary and that increasing council tax is a last resort and struggling to pay more simply because the council has the power. It seems to me the difference between Tory and Labour right now is an understanding of the lives of those who are ‘just about managing’.

But it goes deeper. I’m passionate that our National Health Service remains free at the point of use, I’m sorry but as long as that continues I’m not wedded as to who delivers it.

I care about men and women who have to use public transport to get to work, I’m not bothered about artificially created politically motivated strikes aimed that hurt them and are little more than stunts aimed at ‘bringing down the government’.

I want to be a member of a political party who understands ordinary working men and women. When I joined I fervently believe that that was Labour. It isn’t any longer.

There is only one party and one leader that has the gravitas, the decency and the principle to make the country stronger for me and my family.

That party is the Conservatives. That leader is Theresa May.





Monday, 30 January 2017

The Trump state visit petition is a ridiulous thing


E-petitions are ridiculous things.
Look no further than the one that is currently doing the rounds calling for the British Government to withdraw the offer of a state visit to President Trump later this year.
As I sit typing at 3.00pm on Monday afternoon, just twenty four hours after the petition was launched, 1,294,718 people have taken the time to sign it.
That is a number that is unprecedented on the Government’s own electronic petition website. I’m sure it will go significantly higher.
But delve behind the total and you get a different picture, a picture possibly driven by ambivalence, possibly by disagreement but a picture which undoubtedly shows that a whirlwind of social media support does not necessarily correlate with the wider public mood.
You see, the government petition site allows you to drill down to see how many people in each parliamentary constituency have shown support for an idea and it’s illuminating.
For instance in the Boston and Skegness parliamentary constituency right now just 626 people have signed the petition, that’s 0.6% of the 103,898 electors in that area.
In Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, the constituency of Yvette Cooper, the percentage is just 0.75% of the electorate.
In my own, Conservative held, constituency of North West Leicestershire the figures are slightly higher with 1,178 signatures (or 1.23% of all voters).
Even in that most liberal of all bastions Brighton, Pavilion just 7.2% of constituents have signed this petition which is now dominating the news cycle.
The simple truth is, and accepting numbers of signatures may continue to rise significantly past the initial first 24 hour rush, that the overwhelming majority of our country will not take the minimal time or effort to fill in a few boxes online.
What does that tell us?
It may well say to a large number of us that President Trump is doing no more than the things he promised on the campaign trail and that he was elected into office to carry out.
It may well say that Her Majesty offered the invitation of a state visit in the full knowledge that this was Mr Trump’s agenda.
It could be argued that the majority of the British electorate believe a strong working relationship with the United States is preferable to hostile one and that America seeking to take control of borders in a way which is undesirable to us, including me I hasten to add, is not a red line sufficient enough to jeopardise that bond.
It could be that others of us, perhaps those with a greater understanding of the US system, take a view that an Executive Order is by definition an extension of existing legislation. Legislation that indeed was formulated under the Obama administration.
Or it could be that most Britons believe that President Trumps actions are a matter for the American public and not ours.
The potential reasons that people have not signed this e-petition are many but there can be no doubt that those choosing not to sign are in the significant majority.
All of which begs the question ‘why the furore now’?
And to my mind the answer is simple. There are a great many people in this country who simply do not like President Trump.
A great many think he is a boorish oaf not fit to lace the shoes of the urbane, intellectual former President Obama and no matter what this democratically elected President does he will be held, by them, in complete disdain.
I am no fan of President Trump, I can’t believe for one second that had I been able to vote that I would have cast my ballot for him. But he was democratically elected with a clear mandate and a clear agenda under the US system.
It is right for opponents of Mr Trump, both here and in the United States, to voice their dissent or to demonstrate. That is what freedom of speech is about.
But ultimately when we do so we have to realise that the far larger silent majority may well have other views.
When you sign an e-petition, even one which could be deemed by many to be nothing more than petulant grandstanding, you have to be careful. There is always the chance that it can highlight to the world how small your voice actually is.


Is it possible to turn the clock back? Is it worth it?

This is me.
2006

Back in 2006.

I had just won a competition promoted by a major shoe manufacturer (can you guess which one?) and had been awarded my prize of being kitted out for an all expenses paid trip to take part in the Chicago Marathon.

I was a runner.

Granted, I wasn't a fast runner. In fact I was a pretty slow one. But I was very definitely still a runner.

Some of my medal haul
I've even got the medals to prove it.

I got my prize because shortly after the death of my father from bowel cancer I had taken up the sport, and lost five stone, and loved every moment as I tried to get fitter so (I hoped) the same fate didn't befall me.

I would run every day, sometimes twice. I would buy myself all of the latest gadgets to monitor and improve my performance. I would race virtually every weekend in at least a 10k but more often a half marathon.

Running was my number one pastime. I got to see some amazing places, what better way is there of running down the centre of New York's 5th Avenue or over the scenic bridges of Stockholm?

In many ways, and mostly for the better, running took over my life.

And then my life took over running.

I started a new job, I took more of a role in parenting my three children, I got involved in politics.

I had no time for running.

2016
This is me now.

Ten years older, ten years more fatter, ten years more wheezy and, undoubtedly, ten years closer to the end.

Running has become something I did when I was young, something to look back on with fond memories.

But then, two or three weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox. An email which in all probability should have gone into 'spam', but it didn't.

My daily newspaper, The Times, is sponsoring this year's Great North Run (my very first half marathon) and they had an allocation of places just for subscribers.

And in a moment of madness the years rolled back and I thought "what the hell".

I filled in the form and I entered my bank details and then a couple of days later I received this.


And now I'm part worried and part excited.

Can I get round without expiring on the John Reid Road? Has running changed? Can you still get shoes specially for fat lads?

But most of all does the thrill of crossing the finish line still feel the same? I bet it does.

And I've got seven months to find out. Seven months to lose weight. Seven months to see if my knees can take it.

Will I make it to the start, let alone the end of the world's biggest half marathon?

Only time will tell but I'm going to give it my best shot.

And I'm going to write about it here.

I'm fairly certain it's not going to be easy, but I'm also fairly certain if it pays off it will be worth it.

If you're interested please do keep checking back. It might give me a little motivation.

Who knows? It might give others a little inspiration.

See you on the trail!