Monday, 31 January 2011

Judgement day for the NHS.

Today is the day that debate starts on Andrew Lansley's 'Privatise the NHS' Bill. It isn't actually called that, but let's call a spade a spade, that's what it is. If this goes through, private companies will not just gain a toe-hold, but a massive foothold. Even the Tory MP and GP Sarah Woolaston likened the bill to 'throwing a grenade into the middle of the NHS'.

David Cameron today tried to sell the reforms by insisting that the NHS isn't good enough as it is, and that it needs reforms to catch up to health care systems around the world. He of course ignores the fact that often the NHS comes out very highly indeed in comparisons of systems, but let's address what he says about us not performing well.

The King's fund, a non-political and highly respected health think tank, say that the case for reform have been 'over-sold'. The figures being used by Cameron and Lansley only go up to diagnoses in 2002, just a year after the Labour government started to really drive up spending on health.

The Conservative's need to play down the success of the NHS, it's the only way they can sell reform. But there facts just do not stack up.

I have written extensively on this, which you can find here. I will leave you with the remarks of the Lancet. Anyone in science will know the high standards of the editorials in the Lancet, and its esteemed reputation. Their blunt analysis is this:

"As it stands, the UK Governments new bill spells the end of the NHS."

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Protest goes viral

Protesting against cuts isn't new, and even organising protests online is now fairly well established. But what is new is the use of new media to guide protests as they are happening. As a direct reaction to the draconian kettling of young and disabled protesters during the student protests a whole new world of protest organisation has sprung into existence, promising to allow protests to be more fluid, and as a result evade the police's attempts to stifle their right to protest.

I should make it clear at this point, I am no anarchist, I'm no enemy of the authorities (people who know me will find it strange that I even have to make this point) and so have no issue with policemen and women who perform a difficult job often admirably.

What I do however have an issue with, is the tactics being relayed and endorsed by the likes of Sir Hugh Orde which deny people not only their right to protest, but also their basic rights to freedom, to have access to food and water and sanitation. Keeping teenage protesters in an effective outdoor prison for upwards of 7 hours can never be acceptable in a democratic society.

And so it is that there is a demand by protesters for an effective way to keep one step of the powers at be. This requires them to keep the protest fast-flowing, to not allow them to be pushed into small an area, and to have eyes and ears warning them of developing police lines designed to contain them. A challenge that has bee admirably risen to, and new methods are still being developed, notably Sukey which promises to be the best yet.

Not only that, but the way protests are organised has shifted dramatically, from a system which required a large organisation (typically a trade union) to organise an event for its members to attend, to a system beautifully demonstrated by UKUncut where there is effectively no leadership and is open to all.

I took part in the latest UKUncut 'Twitter meeting' and it was quite amazing to see how quite an anarchic method to conduct a meeting could result in a well formed plan of action. If the police are genuine in wanting to allow peaceful protest whilst performing the necessary actions to keep the general public safe then they have to catch up, and fast.

They shouldn't, as Douglas Orde suggested, simply resort to ever more 'extreme' measures, as this will only further raise tensions and bring more confrontation. What they need to do is learn how to use this new media to engage with protesters and allow them to air their concerns rather than brutally squash them into a kettle. 

William Hague recently spoke out against the barbaric treatment of protesters in Egypt, let's hope the government heeds his words when it come to protests closer to home.

Edit: Since drafting this, news has reached that apparently the police have gone on rather a different tack, pepper spraying and dragging peaceful protesters who showed no signs of turning violent and even reports of using CS gas on some.

This is not the way to gain the respect, and as a result the compliance and peacefulness, of future protesters. It will only serve to alienate them, and that could be very dangerous indeed.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Freedom at last.

No, the title isn't a reference to the peoples of Tunisia or even in expectation of the rebellion in Egypt, but a freedom much closer to my heart. My own freedom from exams. 

Any excuse to include this answer on some Anonymous geniuses exam.

I had to take a couple weeks break from blogging to focus on revision, so can only hope it's paid off. The exams went fairly well overall, the semester test was incredibly hard, but everyone else found it equally hard so I can only hope that means I've done enough to pass.

In the brief time I have between my recovery from the excesses of last night and having to set off to Coventry for the excesses of tonight I thought I'd come back with a quick update of what's new.

As you may have seen in my previous post, I will now also be writing for All Bases Covered, a new blog where a few of us with different views can put forward our own opinions on what's important in the world right now, and hopefully stimulate some debate. This blog will still run as before, and many posts appearing here will be cross-posted to there.

Also new, I decided that I write so much about the idiocy of Andrew Lansley that I'd give him his own tab at the top of the page, named 'Save Our NHS', which will hopefully direct a lot of the traffic I get towards the petition to oppose the health reforms.

Stay tuned for posts to come back up to normal very soon.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Brand New Blog For You.

This blog will still be running exactly as before, before I have a mass exodus of readers, but I'll also be posting on a new group blog which will have four regular writers as well as posts by others on a less frequent basis. Right now it's in its infancy, but expect posts on all manner of subjects, and from all manner of viewpoints.

You can find it here at:

Instead of one viewpoint, you can see how the same events matter differently to people with other views and beliefs, something which is hard to achieve with one writer. Hence the name, we cover all bases.

You can find out more about who else will be writing and more about what the blog is about by visiting it now. Or alternatively, for those new media lovers, be one of the first to follow on Twitter to get updates on all new posts. Find us at @basescovered

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

EMA or Marriage Tax Break?

The clue's in the title, would you rather spend taxpayer money on Educational Maintenance Allowance, giving young adults the opportunity to stay in education, or give that same money to reward marriage, with no real proven benefits to family cohesion or other area of society?

I ask because the amount being 'saved' by scrapping EMA is £500m, whereas the Coalition's new tax break for marriage is costing £550m. They have decided the latter is more important.

We now know that the claim that these cuts are 'tough but necessary' is utter hogwash. It is a political choice by the Tory government, and allowed by the Lib Dems, between investing in the future skills of our nation and in giving a nice present to their voters.

The statistic that 90% would continue in education without EMA is from totally irrelevant research. It was published by a reputable source, but was not meant to be used in this context. They asked a sample of Year 11 pupils, who had no idea what hardships they may face when going to further education. The only applicable group to poll would be teenagers currently receiving EMA, not those who may (or rather may not after today's vote) receive it.

As the IFS have already reported, the amount spent on EMA is recovered handsomely as the recipient is kept off benefits and can actively contribute to the exchequer through taxation. Abolishing it is economic lunacy, and completely out of touch with the real life needs of young people. Though, I suppose we should have seen it coming after the madness of the trebling of tuition fees, locking thousands out of a better future and starving our economy of bright minds from poorer backgrounds.

First they scrapped the Future Jobs Fund for young people, then they trebled tuition fees, then they scrapped AimHigher. Now they've scrapped EMA, and today they also announced that they wish to privatise the NHS. Just how exactly do they expect us to believe we're 'all in this together'?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A Happy Day for Equality

Just a quick update while I take a break from revision, I thought I'd share some good news on the equality front. 

The judge in the case where a gay couple were denied a room at a B&B because of the owners religious beliefs has ruled that it was illegal and directly discriminatory. Whilst the owners have the right to hold whichever beliefs they wish, they do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others. And the argument they used, that they equally applied this ban on shared rooms to unmarried heterosexual couples, does not stack up as civil partnerships are the legal equivalent of marriage and should be treated as such.

It does of course beg the question, why in a progressive country in the 21st century is marriage denied to homosexuals? Civil partnerships were a step in the right direction, but the discrimination between marriage and civil partnerships is still apparent and surely the time has come to allow gay marriage?

Here's the couple talking about their victory:

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Save the NHS

I've written so much about the disastrous reorganisation plan of Andrew Lansley that it has its own section on here, but yet more misery has been piled on the Health Secretary as yet another big voice in health care has come out against him. This time it's the NHS Confederation, which encompasses the RCGP, the BMA and the Faculty of Public Health.

The voices expressing doubt about the reforms are getting ever louder, with the latest report calling the reform 'extremely risky', and warning it will mean the closure of hospitals and the reduction of NHS care. Rarely is the NHS as united as it currently is against these reforms, yet still he pushes them through without even a glance at the ever-growing list of detractors.

The problem facing those who criticise the reforms is that they are already being implemented, it is not something that will come down to a single vote as was the case with tuition fees. GP's are already taking over commissioning responsibility, and unless the campaign applies some serious pressure these reforms could be pushed through by stealth before anyone has a chance to oppose them.

The next big sting for Lansley is likely to come on Tuesday, when a Health Select committee will report on the reforms, and the whispers are that they aren't exactly providing a ringing endorsement. How much longer can Lansley really keep going in the face of so much criticism? Word is that Cameron is now casting a personal eye over the reforms after they've picked up such criticism, and Tory bloggers seem to think Lansley is one of the most likely to be moved on in the next cabinet reshuffle. But by then, it may be too late.

That's why campaigns that have started up, by the like of 38 degrees, need to start being much more aggresive in speaking out, and need to do so quickly.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Banks should stop apologising? When did you start.

Over the last couple of years, we've all been plunged into a financial crisis which we won't recover from for years or even decades to come. A crisis that was largely caused by the careless risk taking of the financial sector, in the full knowledge that they were too big for governments to allow to fail. Now, one of the biggest figures in banking has said 'I think that period [of remorse] needs to end'. My question? When the hell did it start, and how did I miss it?

No Diamond, you can stop apologising once you've shown genuine remorse, no sooner.

In questioning from Chuka Umunna (you read it here first, this guy will be very big in the Labour party in years to come. Articulate, intelligent, and with strong values, definitely a rising star) it was revealed that not only is Bob Diamond wildly out of touch with reality, but that his company engaged in large scale tax avoidance.

It was revealed that they had large numbers of subsidiaries in well known tax havens like the Isle of Man. As Chuka said, 'your tax efficiency is our tax avoidance'. It's no good to say that this avoidance is legal, Diamond signed an agreement to adhere not just to the letter of the law, but to the spirit of the law. Clearly, running your money through tax havens is not in the spirit of the law.

You can see the full questioning by Umunna here, from 10.49.

Another interesting fact to come from the questioning later on, Diamond admitted that neither Cameron or Osborne had spoken to him directly and asked him to show restraint when deciding the levels of bonuses. You'd have thought even if they were being lax on the banks by handing them tax breaks, the very least they could do was have a quiet word with Diamond and ask him not to be so excessive and insulting to the taxpayer with the massive bonuses being handed out.

The banks can stop apologising when they show restraint, and when they show genuine regret for bringing the economy to its knees.

The madness of Gove's league tables.

There has been much debate about Gove's introduction of a retrospective English Baccalaureate component in the school league tables. An introduction which will damage many schools standing which they have worked hard over the years to build up. He preaches autonomy but then insists on telling schools which subjects are important. 

Time for another U-turn Gove?
But rather than have me explain why it's such a bad idea, I thought I'd leave it to this caller on Radio 5's call in, who debated, and I think fair to say, stunned Michael Gove. It's rare to see such articulate arguments on radio phone ins. By the end, Gove was resorting to twisting the callers words and intentions, ignoring the replies he was given and been put evermore onto the back foot. Kudos to the caller, whomever you may be.

Gove has such a warped view of education that he couldn't comprehend what the caller was saying when he was explaining that he believed people should study subjects that they had a passion for, rather than what was prescribed for them.

I can't embed, so you'll have to follow the link if you want to listen to this debating masterpiece.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Lies, damn lies, and the No2AV campaign.

As I pointed out in my last post on the Alternative Vote referendum, the last bastion of argument for the 'No' camp, namely that it produces strong government, has been quashed by the report from the ippr. But it would seem, this will be no walkover, and still No campaigners are using a mix of spin, half-truths, and outright lies to win over voters. Here's a quick sample.

Let's start with the new No2AV leaflet, which has already been thoroughly rebutted elsewhere, but I'll still have a quick glance over.

We start with something that I think will become a key tactic for the 'No' camp, turn it into a referendum on Nick Clegg. (Because let's face it, no-one likes him right now)

"Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats want Britain to change the way we vote to a method of voting called the ‘Alternative Vote’, sometimes called AV for short. A referendum is planned for May, when we all get to vote whether we agree with him or not."

Excellent, so its not whether you agree that our voting system is in need of reform, it's whether you want to support the nasty Lib Dems (Boo, hiss!) or whether you want to support the defenders of our nation. (Yay! Ticker tape all round) This kind of spin assumes voters are stupid, mindless drones, who will do your bidding so long as you give the right buzzwords.

The next big one, that surely has to be quashed sooner or later, is the outright and brazen lie that under AV, supporters of marginal parties get more than one vote. As they like to use in the scare tactic, 'Would you like BNP supporters to have more votes than you?'. It's a lie people.

 Everyone gets one vote in AV just as in FPTP. The difference being is that in AV, if your first preference candidate came last, your first vote is eliminated, then you can use your second preference. That's not two votes. That is one vote, then the first being eliminated before the second is counted. All this nonsense about multiple votes is the most infuriating thing about the whole No campaign.

And to finish this particular post, their old favourite, 'AV is only used in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia'.

Quite how that is an argument for us not changing to AV is beyond me. Yes, many more nations do use FPTP, mainly because there electoral system (like ours) was set up in very different times and they haven't got around to changing it. Indeed, many of the countries that use it do so because of there colonial links with the UK. Not so long ago many countries didn't allow women to vote, does that mean we were wrong to change that too?

What the No camp will not tell you, is that FPTP, our current system, has only been taken up by three democracies since 1945, and all of those subsequently changed to something else. Since 1945, not a single country has decided that FPTP is the right system for them to use.

In addition, all the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided that FPTP is not good enough for their elections, and so use different electoral systems. Why is FPTP not good enough for them but it'll do for us?

There is no logical argument for keeping First-Past-The-Post, and the No camp knows this. That is why they will turn to spin, to lies, and to brass attempts to turn this into a personality contest. If people are allowed to look at the facts, about what FPTP involves, and what AV involves, they will see that in one system you waste your vote and elect MPs with no mandate. And in the other, you can vote for your real preference, with no tactical voting, and every MP will enjoy the support of over 50% of their electorate.

Yes to fairer votes. Yes to AV.

Stay together, or else.

How much money would it take to make you stay in a relationship that you wanted out of? It may seem an obscure question, after all, what person would charge people to leave a relationship? Well, apparently the coalition wants to.

It follows in the traditional Tory right stance as being 'pro-family', but this seems a little out of step with reality to me. Who would stay in a relationship that they didn't think had a future simply to save a little money? Furthermore, if someone did stay in a relationship for that reason, would it be the best environment to raise children in?

More from the Telegraph here.

Police in the spotlight. Again.

After the debacle over the police tactics at the student protests, culminating in protesters needing brain surgery and being charged at on horseback, the Met may have wished for a quieter 2011. But early signs are that they'll get no such respite, as undercover policing is the latest tactic to come under scrutiny.

The concern isn't about police working undercover, people know that this happens and accept it. But in this case, the group in question were not a serious threat, it was civil disobedience, not hardcore criminal activity that they were engaging in. And more worryingly was the extent that it appears in some cases the undercover officers are acting as agent provocateurs, inciting otherwise peaceful protest into violence so as to give the appearance of a successful mission.

No-one is calling for an end to all undercover policing, but it does need reviewing, and hard questions have to be asked about when it is  being used, and who is protecting the public's right to protest.

There's a good summary of the different points here on the BBC.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Poise and courage personified.

I don't often do posts relating to individuals, but this is something wholly different. I just thought I'd share this video, an interview with the father of the 9 year old girl killed in Arizona the other day, because it really is touching, and his poise and courage are remarkable in the tragic circumstances. He doesn't lash out, he doesn't seek to blame anyone, but just to remember the happy 9 years in between the two tragedies at the start and end of her life.

And everyone should also be thankful to those four brave people who tackled the gunman as he was reloading, as without them, this tragedy could have been even worse still.

Man of the people?

Three stories, which perfectly illustrate the attitudes of those at the top of government, and where their true priorities lie. Here's a spoiler, it isn't with the average man and woman, and most certainly is with the very people who plunged us into this financial crisis in the first place.

You, pauper, hand me your cash!

The first, we were told by David Cameron that the VAT rise to 20%, which was only ever necessary because of other tax cuts pushed through by George Osborne, is here to stay. But the far more progressive taxation of the highest earners at 50% will in all likelihood be cut. What does that say about his priorities? He would rather hand a tax cut to the richest individuals in society than help out the vast majority by reversing the regressive (as he admitted pre-election) VAT increase.

Second, despite much rhetoric being given to the idea of the banks paying their fair share of the recovery, a recovery necessary because of their recklessness, it turns out it's business as usual at all the big banks. The government has admitted it's impotent to halt the bonus culture, or even to make the banks lend to smaller business. After being saved by taxpayer money the banks are now effectively sticking up two fingers to the rest of us. And the pathetic bank levy lauded by the Tories makes no difference to banks, as they already make that money back in other tax cuts they've been handed.

And finally, at a time when people are worried for their finances and the chances of finding a job, Cameron has decided that the most important thing to do is make it far easier to sack people. Man of the people indeed. You will no longer be able claim unfair dismissal until you've worked at a company for two years, rather than the one year as it is at present. Oh, and the amount of sick pay you can claim will also be reduced.

It's because they care.

Edit: The TUC commissioned a report to look at the effects of employment protection legislation on employment levels, and it found that there was 'no significant relationship'. So, there really is no case for this reform.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Great American Divide

The terrible shooting which killed 6 people in the US shouldn't be hijacked by people with motives to further their own message, which is why I'm not suggesting that the only motive behind the shooting was a political one. In fact, at his point, it doesn't seem that Loughner had any affiliation to the political right or the Tea Party in particular. But, it has focussed attention on the kind of extreme rhetoric that is being used in America without thought for the possible impacts.

Irresponsible in the extreme for someone who wants to become US president.

In this country, sometimes tempers get flaired on both sides of the political divide, but for the most part, conversation is kept sensible, if not always accurate. In the US, on the other hand, certain groups, the Tea Party and Fox News in particular, have let their rhetoric get extremely out of hand. As the sheriff involved in the latest shooting said,“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country, is getting to be outrageous, and, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

It only takes one person to be a little mentally unstable and this kind of overzealous extreme language can be used as fuel for something as horrifying as what we saw in Arizona, and innocent people will be caught up in these political mind games with very real consequences.

Someone like Sarah Palin, who hopes to run for the most powerful office in the world, cannot be so irresponsible as to put up a map showing gun-sights over areas with Democrats that she wants 'taken out'. I'm not suggesting she intended for any of those people to literally be 'taken out' in the sense of being shot, but it is dangerous to use that language no matter what the implication was.

Just take a look at this video (found from LFF) of Glenn Beck, a host on Fox News, and the kind of extreme and unnecessary language he is using to destroy his opponents reputation, and stoke up fear and hatred:

People in the US really have to find a better way to air their differences, and this ever more fractionated society is doing no-one any good.

And while I did say this incident shouldn't be used by anyone to further their own goals, surely it raises yet again the issue of gun control in America, and surely it serves as a warning to those in the UK who want Sky News to become our equivalent of Fox.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Private vs. Comprehensive School

University debate was sparked back into life by an interesting statement from Simon Hughes (the man who was very sad he had to raise tuition fees, shame that sadness didn't extend to actually voting against them) who said that universities needed to cut their intake from private schools so that they could better represent society as a whole.

He's 'very sorry' that he lied about tuition fees.

I don't think this should turn in to a class war, people born into the kind of family that can afford to send their children to private school are no more to blame for their abundance of opportunity in life than those born into poorer backgrounds. But there is something wrong with a system, as it stands, that means more than 25% of pupils at Russell Group universities are from private schools despite making up just 7% of the population.

The argument from those universities is that people coming from private schools are achieving better results, which is certainly true, in terms of raw exam scores, they were three times more likely to get an A* than comprehensive school pupils in last years A-Levels. But maybe that just opens up a question on the validity of exam testing.

Perhaps, it isn't the case that private school pupils are more intelligent, but simply that they are better trained to pass exams than their comprehensive school counterparts. Exams test only a very specific and narrow range of knowledge, and some people are naturally more adept at passing exams, even if there actual knowledge isn't as good as others.

This view certainly seems to be backed up by research done for the government, as published by the Sutton Trust. It shows that if you take a private school pupil, and compare there ability at degree level to a comprehensive pupil with similar A-level results, the pupil from the comprehensive school is likely to outperform their private school counterpart. For example, a comprehensive school student with BBB at A-Level will do just as well at degree level as a private school student with grades of ABB or even AAB.

It shows that there needs to be more to university applications than simple exam results, which give only a narrow picture. And in the longer term, perhaps people should be looking into why exactly exam results seem to be such a poor indicator of knowledge in their current format, and whether there is a better alternative. As it stands, the system is giving an unfair advantage to private school students, to the detriment of more able students from comprehensives.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Leave our forests alone.

It would seem nothing is safe from the threat of privatisation. First we had the NHS, now it seems we're going to sell of our forests, the timber companies must be rubbing their hands with glee. We were even told by Cameron in 2007 that 'other countries cutting down forests' were 'barmy'. How times change.

For Sale: The Lake District

This isn't the first time something like this has been tried, back under Major in 1992 the government made plans to sell of the nations forests, only to shelve the idea after a massive public outcry. But it seems all the more odd that this new proposal has come from a government which promised to be 'the greenest ever.' You can't claim to be fighting climate change, whilst in the same breath sanctioning the cutting down of thousands of trees which act as net CO2 absorbers.

What with the sale of the forests and the changes announced by Eric Pickles to make it 'much easier to get planning permission', it will be easier than ever for timber companies to cut down spectacular woodland for a quick profit.

As well as the environmental argument and its beauty, there are sound economic reasons not to sell off the forests. The sale will raise only £2bn, but there are so many benefits that we will lose in one stroke. Indeed, a government study earlier in the year put the value of the forests at £2,100 per hectare per year when you factored in all the benefits from pollution absorption, health provision, erosion protection and carbon sequestration.

Already a petition from 38 degrees has gained over 120,000 signatures (at the time of writing), and you can add your name here.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Our voting system is irreparably broken.

Yet more evidence, if ever more were needed, that our current First Past The Post voting system is beyond repair, and that there is no logical reason for us to keep it. It shows why anything but a Yes vote for AV in May would be disastrous for democracy in our country.

The way we vote at the moment, putting a cross in the box of our preferred party, was designed for an age of two-party politics. If you have a choice between two opposing candidates, then the logical way to choose between them is a simple vote for one or the other, no ranking is needed. Whoever gets the most votes wins the seat, the party with the most seats wins the election, fairly straight forward, which is the reason FPTP prospered for so long.

But now, as shown by the ippr, the way we vote has changed, and continues to do so. We are less inclined than ever before to vote for the two main parties, and we are increasingly voting for smaller parties which better reflect our interests. As shown in the report, for those who care to read it, FPTP completely fails in the face of multi-party elections. It fails the test both by being hugely unrepresentative, and by failing to produce stable government.

The only argument that No2AV ever had was that we needed to keep FPTP or else we would end up with a succession of Coalition governments (which have been given rather a bad press, largely thanks to the spineless nature of the Lib Dems). This research however, shows that coalition governments are equally as likely under FPTP, because marginal seats (seats likely to change hands at an election) are decreasing rapidly. To form a majority government one party would need a landslide over its opponent.

Of the entire population of nearing 70 million people, it was the votes of only 460,000 people that decided the outcome. And the majority of votes cast in each seat were wasted. If you voted for a losing candidate, or your vote was excess to what the candidate needed to win, it was wasted. You may as well just stayed at home.

We now have a state of affairs where the majority of our MPs were voted into power without the support of at least 50% of the electorate. That can't be fair, and it isn't democratic.

AV lets people vote the way they really want to. No, it isn't proportional representation, but it does give voters the ability to show how they really feel. Never again will people not be able to vote for the candidate they want to because it would be a 'wasted vote' and for once, all the MPs in the House could legitimately say they had the support of at least 50% of their voters.

Yes to fairer votes. Yes to AV.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Daily Mail: Bringing you your daily dose of paranoia.

It's common knowledge that if you want to read a xenophobic, homophobic and generally ill-written rag then you can't go far wrong with the Daily Mail. Indeed Stephen Fry has written about the pride he felt when handed a 'Hated by the Daily Mail' badge. But today's offering is a particular gem, which in one article shows their poor reporting, and their obvious disdain for anyone outside their own people. (By 'their own', read white, middle class Brits)

The kind of understated reporting you could expect from the Mail

As I tend to steer clear of the Daily Mail so as not to poison my mind, I found out about this story from Left Foot Forward, their post can be found here.

Recently, there was a report about the number of British people converting to Islam from the 'Faith Matters' group, and reported legitimately in the Independent, which showed that the number converting each year has doubled in the last ten years. Their estimate put the figure of Muslim converts living in Britain at as high as 100,000, with 5,000 more being added each year.

Whilst the Independent looked at the figures and had a responsible discussion about why people might be choosing to convert to Islam, the Daily Mail went for a rather different tack. Pronouncing that 'some' (although we're never told who, I assume they mean Daily Mail editors?) amount this increase to the 'Islamification' of Britain, and as an example of Islam showing two women wearing Niqabs, despite the majority of converts objecting to wearing them.

As shown by LFF, if you actually look at the figures, this 'Islamification' means an annual increase in Muslim numbers of 0.0032% a year, and a doubling of the Muslim population every 213 years. Hardly a rapid increase is it?

Furthermore, the term 'Islamification' is never explained, conveniently allowing the racist and xenophobic amongst their readership to project on it their own meanings. It's exactly this kind of irresponsible reporting that fuels the likes of the racist EDL and BNP who are always keen to seize upon and misrepresent any statistic they can get their hands on.

Lansley: Now his own MPs are challenging him.

It must be a lonely life for the health secretary right now. He thought he had a beautiful vision for the NHS, full of lollipops and rainbows. But since he spelt it out few have come to applaud him, and many have begun lining up to criticise. 

Running a rogue department, now even fellow Tories are getting nervy.

First in line were the major public sector unions, then the BMA, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing, as well as the new head of the RCGP. All of them came out to criticise the plans, and often in dramatic terms. Now, one of his own MPs, who also worked as a GP, joined in the criticism, saying that 'to avoid privatisation of the NHS, he must change course.'

An important part of the reforms that she mentions, and which hasn't been discussed in detail as yet, are the new competition laws being forced upon the NHS. No longer will your GP be able to refer you to an NHS hospital without first getting a quote off private providers. As I'd imagine there are few GPs around who are up to speed on EU competition law, you can safely assume that they won't fancy being dragged in front of a court to explain why they fell foul of the competition laws. To save the hassle they will hand over the power to experienced private companies, who are more than comfortable with taking the risk.

This isn't hypothetical, it's already happening with the Great Western Commisioning Consortium of Ealing, who recently tendered out responsibility over patient referral to United Healthcare, a large private health care multinational, who will have no qualms about denying the NHS services in favour of private competitors.

As well as this, it is safe to assume that new private companies will be happy to run loss-leader services to undercut the NHS and get a foothold in the new system, whilst driving NHS services into the ground and forcing them to close.

I'll let Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP, have the last word:

"If commissioners cannot design care pathways free from the spectre of lawsuits from private providers, they will hand over to commercial commissioners prepared to take the rap. If those private commissioners turn to private providers at the expense of NHS providers, then my e-mailer [who asked if the NHS was being privatised] might not have been so wide of the mark after all."

Get a grip Andrew.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Censorship in the UK?

Okay, so perhaps we don't have it quite as bad as some countries, but it would appear that the Daily Mail and Telegraph would rather only their views were aired in public. Just today they decided to pull (after agreeing a fee with the organisation involved) an advert that was due to appear in their pages, asking questions about whether George Osborne was avoiding tax and whether he was doing enough to prevent others avoiding theirs.

The ad which ran in the Independent, Guardian, and soon on bus stops and billboards around the country.

The group in question were 38 degrees, who I discussed only in my last post, and they had managed to raise over £20,000 through small donations in order to run this advertising campaign in line with the VAT increase, an increase that could be wholly avoided if just a fraction of tax avoidance was tackled, or indeed if Osborne hadn't decided to reduce so many other taxes in the same budget. It would seem that those who disagree with the right-wing media, are not welcome on their pages, even when the issue is in the public interest.

The money which would have paid for the adds in these papers, along with extra money that was already raised after the initial £20,000 mark was reached, will now fund a country-wide advertising campaign on bus stops and billboards, concentrated in areas of key government interest.

38 degrees summary of press coverage of the campaign can be found here.

A New Way to Protest

It's seen as forward thinking by a lot of the press these days to talk about the 'revolution' of new media. Social networking in particular is supposed to be changing the way we do things. As yet, this revolution is young, there really isn't much tangible evidence of a really dramatic shift in the way we do things. But there are shoots starting to break through.

The new way to get your voice heard.
It was visible at the student protests, not the ones organised by the NUS, but the ones following it that were spread by word of mouth and networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They allowed a whole mass of people who shared a view come together despite having no affiliation to a common organisation. The UK Uncut protests use Twitter in particular to arrange spontaneous demonstrations which close down business at Vodafone and Topshop, and other tax-dodging multi-nationals.

But one site in particular is fostering this new way of doing things to bring people together, with no political or other affiliation (though slightly centre-left leaning), to protest on common interests. 38 degrees (Named after the angle at which an avalanche begins) has been gathering supporters in order to have mass participation actions against perceived injustices. They've successfully campaigned for a bankers bonus tax, ensured an inquiry into the Murdoch takeover of BSkyB, delayed plans to renew Trident and lobbied for a rise in Capital Gains Tax, plus much more you can find here.

If successful, places like 38 degrees could be the places where politics is won and lost, not in the major political parties with their ever declining memberships and need to please partisan activists. In the early days of the digital revolution in politics 38 degrees members have performed nearly 1.4 million actions, be it signing a petition or phoning their MP.

You can find them, and their campaigns, here.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Mental health care takes a blow.

First we were told we'd have no more structural reorganisations, before being presented with the biggest reorganisation in the NHS's 62 year history. Then we were told that the NHS would be protected, that it would receive an increase in cash, before it turned out it would have a real terms cut. He even signed a petition to reopen a local cardiac centre in opposition, before changing his mind when he was the one with the power to do so. 

The biggest threat to the NHS in its history?

Now, the country's most incompetent minister (possibly bar Nick Clegg) is at it again, scrapping the pledge to put mental and physical illness on a more even keel, and in doing so letting down millions around the country with mental health issues. We currently spend less than 2% of the total health research budget on mental illnesses, a figure that was set to rise to 11% of the total under a 2009 Labour strategy.

But despite promising to treat mental and physical illness equally, Lansley has decided to scrap the initiative, with no sign of any new strategy forthcoming. The health secretary, it would seem, is comfortable with the idea that only 2% of research funding will go to mental health care. Yet another balls up from him and his rogue department.

There's a great piece on it in the Independent, here.

Leaders can be popular. Who knew?

In the times of austerity, it's difficult to think of many leaders of major nations that enjoy widespread support amongst the majority of their electorate. Much less of any that would be described as the 'most popular in the history' of their nation. 

One of the most popular presidents of all time, leaving with approval ratings as high as 90%.

You need look no further than Lula, as he is known popularly, the outgoing president of Brazil. I really had no knowledge whatsoever of any Brazilian goings on until the BBC reported their new (first ever female) president being inaugurated, and looking back at Lula's time in office. It really is quite inspirational to read about his story and how many lives he has managed to improve and lift out of poverty. Policies like Bolsa Familia, which gave families financial support in exchange for their children attending school and being vaccinated, had massive impacts on Brazil and are being mimicked elsewhere. Schemes like that, along with massive economic growth, helped lift over 30% of people out of poverty.

Anyway, here's a few links for anyone remotely interested:

Brazil may still have its problems, but it's certainly a better place than it was a decade ago.

Guilty until proven innocent.

Over the past few days the man arrested (and now released) for the terrible murder of Joanna Yeates has suffered from a massive and coordinated character assassination from all angles of the UK press. 

Since his name was released journalists have been dying to get their hands on any interesting oddities from his past, in order to paint him as an oddball outsider and thus fit their frame for a murderer. Whether or not he was eventually to be found guilty this is wholly wrong. In the UK, and any other civilised democracy, you are innocent until proven guilty. After these attacks from the press, this man will find it impossible to ever lead a normal life again, his whole world has been turned upside down and it may turn out that he had absolutely no involvement with Joanna's death whatsoever. The media should be much more responsible when reporting on these kind of cases where it is constantly developing.

The point is well made in the Telegraph here.

New Year, New Stuff.

Happy New Year people, here's hoping 2011's been nice to you all so far. Just a quickie post to say that in line with my ever evolving desire to not get bored of writing posts I've decided yet again to change a few things. Not big things like last time, but still worthy of a post.

Instead of just having ever diminishing numbers of long rambling posts a couple of times a week which will only get rarer as exams come up on the 20th January, I've decided that sometimes if I see something interesting elsewhere on the web, I'll simply do an introduction and link you to the original. Most of the time when I read an article or whatever else it may be, the original writer has put it better than I ever could in any case so you won't be missing out. And of course I'll still do some longer posts whenever possible.

I may have a fiddle with the categories on the right hand side as well, some are getting used too much and others not much at all, so a change is in order.

Happy 2011 all.