Sunday, 31 March 2013

Good jobs and bad jobs...


We're familiar with the 'burger flipper' argument. Jobs at places like McDonalds of KFC are 'bad' jobs - low skilled and low paid. Which, when you think about it, is rather sticking two fingers up at the kids who go and do these jobs.

But no, we must have high skilled, high paid jobs - you know the ones don't you? The ones that our education system doesn't meet demand for (which, of course, is why the jobs are higher paid). But even were the schools to miraculously transform overnight, there'd still be jobs serving fried chicken and hamburgers to people who want to eat said chicken and burgers.

This is all an example of the way in which the British have managed to turn the idea of giving service into the single most demeaning and menial of tasks. We've got this rather pathetic attachment to grand jobs in manufacturing and extractive industries - steelworkers, miners, machine operators. These are proper jobs in a way that waiting on in a diner or serving the cue at Burger King aren't.

Even in service industry, we champion the jobs in the back room - the bankers, the accountants, the code-writers - rather than front of house. The folk who serve you in the bank, the people on the other end of the phone at the insurance company and the receptionists everywhere - these are the low valued, poorly paid jobs.

It seems to me that we'd be a whole lot nicer place if this changed, if the idea of service was valued a little more highly. And, moreover, we'd have better businesses as a result.


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sorry Frank & Nick, stopping immigration won't end unemployment


Frank Field and Nicholas Soames - in a sort of unfunny political version of Laurel and Hardy - have told us that the way to end unemployment is to stop immigration. Or rather, as is often the case with these observations, they've left the ordinary bloke to draw that conclusion from what they say:

“[An] area that needs to be considered is whether EU members should have powers, during periods of high unemployment, to restrict the free movement of labour, at present guaranteed in EU law,” the MPs say. 

Note the essential conceit here. We joined a union - a common market - that allowed for free movement. It means British workers can ply their trade in Rome and Berlin and that we can retire to the warmth and comfort of a Costa del Sol apartment. It also means that Italians and Spaniards, Slovaks and Romanians can come here. That's the deal.

And it's a deal that we benefit from - as Ms Raccoon reminds us:

They clean the toilets at Stanstead airport. They queue for mini-buses in the grim early morning British weather for the chance to pull carrots out of the East Anglian soil. They stand for hours gutting bloody chickens in Herefordshire warehouses. They collect together in windswept sidings in Swindon, anxious to be one of the chosen few given the chance to throw the occasional bucket of water at a British Rail train. Some of them stand at traffic lights, keen to earn a few bob by scraping the dead flies off your windscreen. They swab the floor after the Billingsgate fishmarket has finished for the day.

And this is entirely the point. Back in the 1950s and 1960s when there was a real labour shortage, when we had very little unemployment, immigrants came to do the jobs we wouldn't take - textile mill night shifts, cleaning hospitals, driving buses. The sad truth is that, despite high levels of youth unemployment, immigrants still come here to do the jobs we won't take - hard jobs that don't pay that well but that need doing.

And why is this? The answer is there plainly before our very eyes - emblazoned across the front page:

The Work and Pensions Secretary said that, unlike other European nations, the “reality is that this country is not cutting welfare”. He added that “all those on benefits will still see cash increases in every year of this Parliament”. 

That's the reason. Those immigrants aren't coming for the benefits, they're coming for the work that people on benefits in Britain won't do. And if we turf out the fruit-pickers and chicken killers, send them back to Eastern Europe, what will happen? Will those jobs get filled? Will out young folk step up to do them? Why on earth should they when a slightly poorer life (but less strenuous and demanding) is possible on benefits. A life filled with people rushing round campaigning on your behalf - campaigning for some proud fool who does take a low wage job to pay taxes to keep others in benefits.

Unemployment is our problem. Immigrants don't cause it and don't cure it. Perhaps we should stop trying to blame them?


Friday, 29 March 2013

Friday fungus: No blue cheese isn't going away...

Penicillium roqueforti - the fungus that makes blue cheese blue

This afternoon Kathryn tripped into the dining room where I was lounging with a book (or rather in these hi-tech times, a kindle) to tell me about the great ploughman's lunch her and Jethro had enjoyed at The George. And more specifically to wave a piece of Yorkshire Blue cheese in my direction - this was because the rest of my family don't like this particular example of the gift that fungi bring to our cuisine.

However, the Co-op has issued a press release saying that Stilton (and I guess other blue cheeses) are 'under threat' because:

Consumption by those under 30 years of age has slumped by 23 per cent and few people under the age of 25 would consider buying it regularly. But cheese experts are warning that if the trend continues it could mean that Blue Stilton, which has been in production in the UK for almost 300 years, would only be available overseas. 

Now I applaud the cuteness of this PR campaign - for that's precisely what this is about.  And if it means that there's more talk of the blue cheese that is brilliant. Apparently the poor kids have been told not to eat mouldy food - so they don't eat Stilton!

The mold in Stilton is Penicillium roqueforti - probably the only fungus with a facebook page - and it's been around a long time (the French folk put bread in caves to catch it before adding it to the cheese). Penicillium roqueforti is a common saprotrophic fungus from the family Trichocomaceae. Widespread in nature, it can be isolated from soil, decaying organic matter, and plants - and we've been using it since at least 500AD and possibly longer.

There will always be folk who don't like the powerful flavours of blue cheeses, just as there are plenty of people who'd rather have a bland processed cheese. But I don't believe for a second that we won't be able to buy Stilton and other blue cheeses in England.


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Shooting the messenger - doctors, smoking and mental health

Today the BBC is reporting on the latest press release from The Doctors:

The NHS in England is not doing enough to help people with mental health conditions quit smoking, an influential group of doctors has warned. 

The influential group (and to think I was kind to them just this morning on the radio) is the Royal College of Physicians aided and abetted in this case by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University. The top professor there had this to say about the mentally ill and smoking:

"The patients are seen as having a hard time and are ill so they need a cigarette and it is also a way for staff to build relationships and so they end up facilitating smoking breaks, finding time to supervise people who want to go outside to smoke, rather than spending resources on helping them to stop."

It seems to me that these influential doctors are doing the worst thing possible - focusing on something that is less harmful out of ideology. Rather than treating the mental illness, The Doctors tell us we must first stop the mentally ill from smoking - must spend "resources" on this rather than treating the mental health problem.

Perhaps, in an idle break from their nannying fussbucketry, the influential doctors might consider why people with mental health problems are more likely to smoke? Have these so-called "doctors" not thought for a second that, for someone with severe depression for example, a fag is a welcome little lift?

But no. Instead these supposed doctors want to take away another little pleasure, to regiment and control what the mentally ill do as if they're not able - with support - to live their own lives and make their own choices. And what makes matters worse is that those who claim advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill fail completely to tell The Doctors to shut up and treat the mental health problems. But MIND simply make a knee-jerk 'mentally ill people's needs aren't being met' statement - a complete failure considering that they had the chance to set matters straight.

The needs of those mentally ill people is support - whether medical or social - to allow them to lead a fuller live. And when that's done perhaps helping them to quit smoking has a chance of succeeding. In the meantime can we stop shooting the messenger and focus instead on the thing that means mentally ill people have such a lower life expectancy - their mental illness.


Marking your own homework - the problem with inspection


From BoM comes the quote of today:

A government regulator regulating a nationalised industry is always going to be the public sector marking its own homework. And while the Government Inspector may strike fear into the hearts of employees - witness the hatred of Ofsted among many headteachers - that's because the regulator becomes an instrument of Commissariat control rather than an objective assessor of standards.

Absolutely - writing lists of 'standards', mostly based on subjective appraisal and qualitative enquiry, is no substitute for giving people choice.


So much for localism...


Councils can have localism just so long as they do as they're told by the unelected:

The research shows more than half of the 55 non-London local plans submitted to the Planning Inspectorate under the new system proposed a reduction in housing targets.

However, of the 18 plans passed by inspectors, eight were forced to increase their housing targets. Just two plans have been passed with lower housing numbers than set by the old regional planning targets and government household projections.

Not releasing land for housing may be wrong. It may be right. But if we really believe in giving local communities power it's for them to make those right and wrong decisions not an unelected inspector.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bradford Council and e-cigarettes


I can now confirm that Bradford Council doesn't have a policy on e-cigarettes - this means, as the Council Leader told me, that people can use them on Council premises until such time as some nannying fussbucket introduces a policy to ban them.

This seems to be good news although I'd love to see if people have tried!

Let's remind ourselves why it's good news:

"Nicotine itself is not a particularly hazardous drug," says Professor John Britton, who leads the tobacco advisory group for the Royal College of Physicians.

"It's something on a par with the effects you get from caffeine.

"If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It's a massive potential public health prize."


Monday, 25 March 2013

Immigration is (mostly) a good thing...


And perhaps politicians need to stop telling us how bad it is - not just the tinpot poujadist Farage but all the others too. Miliband, Clegg and Cameron all lined up to tell us how jolly awful immigration is, how something must be done, how (in Miliband's case) how sorry they were that they'd not said nasty things about immigrants before. All accompanied by a stream of lunatic policies and controls - designed less to do anything about those dreadful immigrants than to get the juices flowing in a certain sort of upper lower middle working class person that the focus groups have spotted.

Let's be clear folks, what Britain has gained from immigrants so vastly outweighs what it has lost that to start on some ghastly line of "they don't speak English" or "they take our jobs" is to entirely miss the point. A point that goes like this:

Immigration is good for us. With every major party now promising to ‘get tough’ on immigration, it’s easy to forget that immigrants bring new skills to the country, allow for more specialization, tend to be more entrepreneurial than average, pay more in to the welfare state than they take out, and make things cheaper by doing the jobs that Britons won't.

So a little bit of me despairs when the last generation of immigrants turns on the latest arrivals - here's Rashid Awan from Bradford Pakistan Society:
“If anyone is coming to this country, he or she should have a job to go to or study,” he said. “Students coming here should have their financial backing in place. In my view it does make sense.

“Maybe some people will be affected by this, but I think this policy has to be observed. To bring back the economic situation of this country to normality, these small steps are necessary.
“I am not here to say people who are here genuinely should be penalised, but I think these people coming here genuinely are taken care of. We are in a very acute economic situation and we need to make sure no abuse is created as far as benefits are concerned.” 

But I'm not surprised.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Capitalism works and we should celebrate

After all there's an International Workers Day, why not an International Capitalism Day.

Here in England we've got rather used to being told just how bad capitalism is. And how a decent society is only possible because of the control and regulations placed on that capitalism by the benevolent hand of the government. There's sort of a point to this argument - it justifies government (and the millions it employs to administer those controls and regulations) and it reminds us that we can never be completely free.

But what is missing in all this is a celebration. Something that recognises just how fantastic capitalism has been for us, how it allowed us to escape from the bitter toil of subsistence agriculture, how is gave us wages to spend and, in time, a surplus from those wages to spend on pleasure. We seem to have forgotten just what capitalism did for us.

Fortunately, we get a glimpse still of capitalism's wonders:

"There have been big changes," she said, sitting in her office on an industrial estate 20 miles from the city's market. "Yiwu is changing every year - new buildings, new markets, new products and also many new customers." Yu Hexi, 52, the manager of Yiwu Beautiful Life Flower Co. Ltd a local firm that makes the imitation flowers that adorn the heads of women across Europe has fared even better.

"I never imagined, or even dared to imagine, that I would enjoy such a good life now," he said. His parents were once part of a rural Communist production team. Now, he runs a company with an annual turnover of more than half a million pounds.

"When I was little, we were really, really poor. My parents were peasants.

We didn't have enough food. Now our family has three cars. We built the best house in our village.

Multiply Yu Hexi's experience a million times and you get an idea of what capitalism is doing for China - and, because we're buying the things those Chinese businesses are making - for us too.

But it's not just the people who run the businesses, it's the workers too:

"There have been big changes in recent decades," she added, without pausing from her packing duties on the production line. "The city is getting better year after year. The most important change for me is that more factories are bringing more job opportunities." Shen Youfeng, 52, who works in the factory alongside her 18-year-old daughter, Feng Xueqing

More jobs, rising wages, the benefits of urban life and the chance to progress through education, hard work or both. This is what that capitalism brings to China and what we should be celebrating because we only have those things today because of capitalism.

The evidence of the last three decades - a time of unprecedented improvement in the lives of the world's poorest people - tells us that the idea of a free market, of free trade and of capitalism provides the sort of social and economic improvement we want for everyone. Yet we never pop open the champagne corks or put out the bunting to celebrate what free enterprise and free trade has brought the world.

If you want to reduce poverty then go buy things made by poor people in poor countries. And this is also why everyone who is even vaguely lefty in outlook, even a tiny bit concerned about improving the lot of the poor, should be pro-trade, pro-globalisation, in short, should be neoliberal capitalist running pig dogs intent on exploiting the labour of the poor.

And the reason for this is that it works.

Every other approach to improving the lives of the poor has failed. Every single one from socialism, fascism and communism to import substitution behind trade barriers and the grand state approach so loved by central African despots (and their French sponsors).

Capitalism may seem "unfair" - some people got pretty rich - but the deeper truth is that this unfairness is a chimera, a distraction from the real business of globalisation, free trade and free enterprise. And that business is making us all better off. Not just in economic terms but in every measure of human development. Free enterprise and free trade really do make our lives better. Every time.

Capitalism - free enterprise, free trade - made us rich. It's making the Chinese rich. And it will make Africans rich. Let's celebrate it just for once.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

More on how capitalism is ending poverty...



...this is just one indication among many that the poor may not, after all, always be with us, in what is one of the great under-reported developments of our time. Last week the UN’s blue-chip Human Development Report confirmed that governments have surpassed their target, three years early, of halving the share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015.
“Never in history,” it concludes, “have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.” And that could be just the beginning: other researchers have even estimated that by the end of the target period, the proportion could be as low as 16 per cent of the world’s people, compared with 43 per cent just 25 years before.

It isn't government that's doing this. It's not central planning. It certainly isn't Oxfam. It evil capitalists that are ending poverty - and doing so at a rate faster than ever in human history. Despite the efforts of greens, of trade unions and of politicians to stop the triumph of capitalism, it's doing what it does best - making all of us richer.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Quote of the day - for our friends in public health


The right approach is not to denormalise smoking, but to normalise e-smoking. Those who enjoy nicotine will be able to continue to use it, while everyone else will be spared both the public-health consequences of smoking and the nuisance of other people’s smoke. What’s not to like?


Sorrry but, no. Obessively checking your smartphone isn't 'addiction'


The word addiction is overused - and most often this overuse is misleading if not downright wrong. Here's a good example:

A study of 2,000 US college students revealed that 10 per cent would say that have a full-blown addiction to their handsets, with 85 per cent compulsively checking theirs and three quarters needing to sleep beside it.

So we ask people whether they're addicted to the phone and they tell us they are - and we call this addiction? Truth is that, if you ask people who relaly are addicted - to alcohol, to tobacco or to some other drug - they'll often tell you they aren't addicted.

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

We could argue about this definition but one thing's clear - it doesn't apply to compulsively checking your phone!


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Leveson mission creep - a warning to voluntary organisations


Folk like me (I think but am not quite sure) are not caught in the mission creep that is the proposed Royal Charter to control the press - at least as solo bloggers. But if - like I do - you are involved in managing a site that publishes news, blogs, events information and other stories, then take note of this:

The result is that they apply to any size of web publisher – if there’s more than one author, the content is edited and there’s a business involved, then you must join a self regulator.

And don't think that you can hide behind being a charity. Remember also that the proposals are for strict liability.

The Open Rights Group have set up a link for you to raise your concerns with Party leaders and your MP. You should - however much you welcome the broad Leveson principles - consider carefully whether the proposed Charter will encompass your organisation and whether you think that is right.

Update: Lord Lucas is sponsoring an amendment that will exclude smaller organisations and individuals from the proposed regulations:

Insert into New Schedule 5 of the Crime and Courts Bill ‘Exclusions from definition of “relevant publisher”
9) “A publisher who does not exceed the definition of a small or medium-sized enterprise as defined in Section 382 and 465 Companies Act 2006.”


Permission to dump, Sir? Some rubbish bureaucracy from Bradford Council


In this year's budget Bradford's Labour leadership - supported as they are by the watermelons from Shipley - forced through a decision to introduce a permit for residents wanting to make use of 'household waste recycling sites' (or 'tips' as most folk call them). Officers have been trying to introduce this tidy little scheme for some long while but it's only this year that they've found - in Labour Cllr Andrew Thornton - someone stupid enough to agree to the idea.

We're told - without any evidence other than the opinion of officers - that Bradford is a net importer of waste. People from Leeds, Kirklees, Halifax and Skipton are driving into Bradford to deposit their broken furniture, bags of coat hangers and knackered white goods. Oddly enough, all those other councils believe the same and are introducing similar schemes - presumably the extra rubbish is freighted in from Maastricht or perhaps even deposited by visiting Martians.

So far, so bad. A problem that isn't a problem is identified and a solution - introducing a permit - is proposed and accepted by an idiot politician (Cllr Thornton in this case who was told that it would save loads of money). But it gets worse.

To introduce the scheme the Council has sent every resident a form that they are asked to take to their nearest tip along with their Council Tax bill and their driving licence. Information - address, driving license number and the tip the resident uses - is collected. The instructions say that the operatives at the tip will issue the license and off we go.

Sadly, the Council had forgotten to tell the folk at the tip - who didn't know about the forms and didn't have any permits to issue. So the forms were gathered, placed in a box and, one assumes, the Council will post out the permits. Asked about why all this personal information is needed, the Strategic Director in charge said this:

It is not, all we need is proof of adress (sic) that is the same as the Council tax bill. More often than not people show their driving license (sic) for this purpose but any other appropriate formal document traditionally accepted will do

The intention is for proof to be shown and the permit can be issued. There was no need for a form, no need to collect the data and no need to gather thousands of pieces of paper containing sensitive personal information (address and driving licence number - what could Mr Huhne have done with that, I wonder?).

Truth is that there's no need for the scheme at all - the bureaucracy alone negates much of the saving. And that's before all the aggro from people who lose their licence, leave it on the side in the kitchen or generally do what we all do from time to time. And what about the bloke from Pudsey who takes some stuff from his elderly mum's house to the tip? I guess he'll have to go to Leeds?

So we have here a typical council initiative - not really necessary, disorganised, unclear and unsafe. All in the name of some savings that they'll never be able to prove came about because of the scheme!

Well done Cllr Thornton. You win Numpty of the Month for March!


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Conservative Party's problem...


...capured here:

Most of all, broadly speaking, I think you’d struggle to find many people under the age of 40 who are appalled or outraged or betrayed by this, far less many who really feel insulted or punished. This may reflect my own selection biases of course but, really, I look at today’s Tory papers and wonder where and when these people are living and to whom they think the modern Tory party should be trying to appeal. Because, on the evidence of today’s papers, it sure ain’t middle-class (and metropolitan!) women.

It's not David Cameron's problem or even the parliamentary party's problem, it's a problem of our image, focus and preference. The Party's image and outlook - again this isn't a consequence of policy, ideology or strategy but one of positioning - is designed to sustain it's core. And that core, the 'Conservative Base' if you wish, is over 55, living in the South East and wealthy pockets elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of these people. They form the core constituency and customer base for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, they don't approve of newfanged things like gay marriage and women going out to work, and they make up nearly all of the Conservative Party's 150,000 members (as an aside, when I joined the party in 1976 it had around 2 million members).

The Party has lost the support of two generations of educated young people - the bunch who finished university and started work in the 1990s and the cohort who did likewise in the 2000s. This goes a long way to explaining why the Party got less than 40% of AB voters - its traditional core support - in the 2010 General Election.

Alex Massie is right. It would be a poor do if this was just the response to giving working mums a tax break on childcare. But it isn't - the same goes for almost any policy that might look even the slightest bit socially liberal. Whether it's gay rights or racial discrimination, the knee-jerk of the conservative press - echoed by the 'party faithful' next time they meet their MP - is to say no and gibber about political correctness or traditional values.

Until this changes, the Conservative Party will decline. For sure, vacuuming up the grumpy old man vote might work as a short term strategy but in the long term all it does it annoy the hell out of 30 and 40 something voters. Voters who really don't have a choice but for mum to work - and who will welcome a little tax break on childcare.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Doing my bit for sanity on e-cigs..


My question to Council next week:

Bradford Council leader David Green will be asked to clarify the authority’s policy on smoking electronic cigarettes in council buildings. Cullingworth Coun Simon Cooke will ask the question at a full meeting of the council on Tuesday. The electronic devices, which look like cigarettes but are much safer, have seen a surge in popularity. 

Dave Green is, of course, an enthusiastic smoker!


Monday, 18 March 2013

A story...


I knew a bloke who set up an erboristoria in Ragusa - or rather his wife did and Dave helped. Now, as you'll know, to set up any shop in Italy requires a licence and, in this case, there was a further licence because of the medical nature of a herbalist.

Now in Sicily there are three ways to get a licence.

The first way is to go to the municipio queue up and collect the requisite form, complete the form, attach the requisite payment and submit it to the appropriate official. And wait. And wait. There is a chance that, at some point in the future, that official (or someone on his staff) will not be at important meetings, at lunch or otherwise engaged. And will deign to look at the completed form, apply the stamp of approval and place it in the tray for the licence to be sent. There is even a chance that the licence is actually posted back.

The second way to get a licence is to get your neighbours cousin - the one with the nice car who never seems to work - to get his business associates to speak to the official in question. Shortly after this the license will be issued. However, each Wednesday friends of the cousin call in and politely ask for a small consideration for their efforts. Not paying this consideration is, I believe, foolish.

The third way to secure that license involves the most expensive espresso you've ever bought. You speak to the local mayor and he tells you he can help and can you meet him at his brother's caffetteria perhaps for a late morning caffè. You agree and on arriving you buy the mayor a coffee, hand him the completed form. He drinks the coffee (it being Italy this takes little more than a minute), says he's happy to help and leaves. The brother brings the bill across. Your eyes pop out but you pay secure in the knowledge that tomorrow your licence will arrive.

Quite which option Dave and his wife used I don't know.

It may all be a myth, of course!


Should we scrap Ofsted?


Seriously. All it seems to do is pass questionable judgements of schools while creating stress, mayhem and dysfunction. I was struck by this comment from a teacher at a private school (who'd a load of experience in state schools):

But really the biggest change is lack of Ofsted. After seven years in the state sector I became very weary of the cloud that hung over state schools. I worked with amazing colleagues in wonderful schools but it felt like everything we did, every initiative we undertook was to appease Ofsted. We worked in fear of Ofsted, and I was fed up of it.

It feels so different here. Independent schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. I've had no experience of them yet and I rarely hear them mentioned. We don't base our teaching on forthcoming inspections. All the initiatives we put in place here are for the benefit of our students, not to appease Ofsted.

Sounds like a plan. Off you go Mr Gove.


Business & politics - why Heseltine is wrong


There's a sort of conservatism - let's call it the "business right" - that sees politics through the prism of a thing called either "business and industry" or else "business and commerce". This viewpoint produces familiar comments such as:

"We need more businessmen in politics"


"Government needs to be more businesslike"

Or indeed any number of variants on this theme where the essential premise is that "business administration" is somehow a superior construct to "public administration". And, this being so, that we have only to introduce such administration to government to bring about a miraculous transformation in the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.

Moreover, by bringing in business people, we get a sudden rush of initiative, enterprise and other fabulous business virtues. Thus we get boards established, run on corporate principles and populated by private sector folk - the holy grail of public services and public investment being "business-led" is met. And we rejoice for it will be but a short while before the benefits of such initiative is felt by all!

This is the essence of Michael Heseltine's politics. The lion-maned, millionaire businessman (and politician) does not believe in free markets, free trade and free enterprise. Heseltine believes in "business", in industrial strategies, in subsidies, in picking winners. Above all, Heseltine believes that government should harken to the cries of the business establishment and fund their schemes (while putting those business 'leaders' on the boards that administer those programmes).

And it seems like the Coalition plans to adopt Heseltine's approach:

"In line with Lord Heseltine’s report, today we have also announced a package of wider support that is a big vote of confidence for our industrial strategy, particularly the aerospace, automotive and agri- technology sectors. This support not only gives businesses certainty, but shows the Government is determined to back those sectors where Britain can deliver and compete on a global scale in partnership with industry."

Weirdly, Heseltine pretends that all this is somehow radical, new and change-making. It's almost as if the old interventionist has written George Osborne's script for him:

 “We asked Lord Heseltine to do what he does best: challenge received wisdom and give us bold ideas on how to bring government and industry together. He did just that, and that is why we are backing his ideas today.”

I fail to see anything at all in Heseltine's proposals that "challenge received wisdom" or indeed do anything but repeat what Heseltine has proposed off and on since the 1970s. Hand control of planning to unelected boards, pour money into regeneration, create new regional quangos and define a privileged set of industries that benefit from government largess (chiefly the property development industry).

In the North we have had thirty years and more of this 'partnership with industry'. It hasn't delivered salvation - indeed with each passing year the North slips a little further behind the rest of the nation. It's true that some already successful business folk get to sit on grand boards - the latest being Local Economic Partnerships - but these boards achieve little even when (as with the Regional Development Agencies) they're given loads of money to spend.

Challenging received wisdom would have meant a very different approach. Rather than a snuggly little relationships with the grandees of big businesses, we might work instead with the real enterprise of millions. Instead of a grand board proposing sweeping nonsense about "green industry", "creating the technologies of the future" and other such tommyrot, we might have teams of coaches working with real people in the communities of the North. Helping people realise their aspirations, navigating start up businesses through the thickets of red tape, linking them to networks of other businesses and building a new economy on real enterprise rather than random guesses about "those sectors where Britain can deliver and compete".

This isn't about whether GDP or GVA grows but more about helping Mary, Steve, Iqbal and Samara to get their idea to work. It's about helping a bunch of young people without great qualifications to achieve something of their aspirations - whether that's to be a singer on a cruise ship or to run a successful computer repair business.

The "business right" - rather like the Fabian left - does not recognise free markets but only business markets. We're in a 'global race' rather than a peaceful, pleasant exchange of value with others. Countries, regions, cities, even neighbourhoods, 'compete' - that Porterian 'dog eat dog' philosophy dominates thinking. At no point do we consider that the object isn't actually competition but the successful operation of comparative advantage.

We have a government set in the belief - the hubris - that there are a set of levers that, if pulled in the right pattern, will result in success. And the rhetoric of liberty, of allowing people the space to succeed, is pushed aside in favour of a business-led quangos and investment in privileged sectors.

I have only one prediction. Just like every other time we've followed Michael Heseltine's advice, every time we've adopted "business-led" regional strategies, these policies will fail.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Things that are true...


Even when they appear in the comments under a Guardian article:

Lets face it, support for Levinson is all about silencing rightwing opinion

No doubt about this at all. This has been the entire agenda from the start. It wasn't about the wrongdoing of journalists - the police and courts could deal with that problem - it was about muzzling Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre. Not to mention anyone else who challenges the sacred certainties of left-wing, progressive ideology. The boy pointing out the emperor's nakedness is to be silenced not celebrated.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

It's not just theft, it's utter lunacy

The European Union has set out to lift 10% of savings from Cypriot bank deposits:

But in a departure from previous bail-outs, the country’s savers are being asked to make sacrifices.

The terms of the deal mean that Cyprus’s savers will sacrifice up to 10pc of their deposits in a move which will raise as much as €6 billion. 

That running sound is people in other EU countries that might be needing a bailout from Germany  the ECB rushing to take money out from the banks. It's accompanied by a whooshing sound as larger deposits scatter to safer havens - Germany maybe, perhaps the US or UK. Definitely a good day for those tax havens the lefties dislike.

And it won't be enough - the governments and the banks will have got the taste of blood. Nice savers blood, fresh and clean.

The EU has gone mad. It's beyond time to close it down. Call the men in white coats now.


Friday, 15 March 2013

In which George Galloway wants Twitter banned...


I'm not joking:

"[This House] believes that this failure to cooperate with the detection of the sources of criminal behaviour is reprehensible," it adds "and calls on the Government to impose sanctions on Twitter until it agrees to fully cooperate with the UK authorities and police in the detection of crime."

And the crime? This is 'being rude to George', or so it seems:

"Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications,"

Oh dear George, oh dear! Nannying fussbucket doesn't fully capture the sheer fascism of this proposal!


Things said about David Ward MP I agree with...


Well here’s what’s wrong. If one of Lord Ahmed or Mr Ward’s respective party allies had said something similar about Muslims, you can bet your life that they’d – quite rightly – be drummed out of Westminster before you can say racist.

Invite a well-known anti-Semite to speak at a meeting you’re hosting, or launch into an attack on “the Jews”, and your party will not lift a finger to oust you.

Seems that way, I'm afraid.


On rude Bradford councillors...


Yesterday, at a meeting of Bradford Council's Regulatory & Appeals Committee, there was a fine example of the arrogance of institutions and the rudeness of politicians.

Let me explain:

1. Around fifty members of the public were kept waiting in a corridor of City Hall while the committee had a "briefing". If members needed to be briefed before the meeting, so be it. But other rooms are available and the public could be allowed to go into the meeting room and sit down.

2. The meeting started late. Not a little bit late but 20 minutes late. No reasons were given, no explanations made. And worst of all the Chairman, Cllr Warburton didn't even apologise for keeping people - quite a few of them elderly - waiting in a drafty corridor.

A rather poor show. The public only turn up to meetings when it's really important to them - a little more courtesy wouldn't go amiss.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Free press?


I caught a few moments of the ever crazier arguments promoted for regulating - they call it "statutory underpinning", which sounds like a 19th century dressmakers regulation - the press.

Of course, once you regulate the press you get:

1. A press that isn't free and where politicians and their pals can keep their bad deeds away from the public
2. A slippery slope - each year there'll be calls for changes, a little more control (mostly "for the children" I don't doubt)
3. A supine, spineless, risk-averse media - imagine if it were all like the BBC?

This is why we shouldn't listen to a floppy-haired actor and some bloke who likes his bottom spanked. And why we shouldn't play silly political games with fundamental rights - like free speech.

Unless, of course, you're the Labour Party!


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Killing off old people to deal with climate change - the real green agenda


The long campaign by the greens and their fellow travellers to raise the cost of heating our homes has resulted in record numbers of old people dying unnecessarily in cold houses.

“We have seen the death rate in the past month alone quadruple since December last year and if the cold weather continues we could be looking at horrendous figures

“At the rate we are going, and if this extreme cold continues we could be looking at 30,000 or more.

“Many elderly health conditions are worsened by cold weather and there is a definite risk of the highest national winter mortality figures since 2008-09.”

Despite this our government is trapped in a hideous and pointless programme of closing down efficient means of energy production and replacing them with more expensive methods. Apparently this will save the planet. I guess the Greens - eugenicists to a man - are only too happy to see a few human casualties in their fanatical pursuit of reducing "carbon".

Don't be fooled by the chaff thrown around by these fanatics - the stuff about evil gas companies or wicked electricity producers from France. These people want higher fuel prices because it's the only way they can get the subsidies for wind, tide, solar and all the other twee green generation methods.

The greens have hobbled nuclear by pretending it's dangerous when it isn't, they've pushed the coal mining business to the brink of closure and they want to prevent the safe, low-cost gas that would come from frakking. And they've shoved up the price of fuel by subsidising inefficient generation.

The result of this is that old people can't afford to heat their homes. And too many of them die because of this policy. Those 30,000 deaths - the greens did that.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

"Minimum pricing to be shelved" - we're not quite there folks


It's looking more likely that minimum pricing for alcohol - a ghastly piece of health fascism - is to be dropped:

Plans for minimum pricing on alcohol in England and Wales may be dropped because Conservative ministers are split over the proposals. 

Whatever the reason this is good news - the proposal was just another vote-losing attack on the less well off. But we're not yet there - the prohibitionists, fussbuckets, puritans and health fascists will be redoubling their efforts, churning out their lies and half-truths so as to get this 'back on track'.

So let's keep up the pressure, keep saying this is unwarranted, without evidence and punishes the moderate drinker as well as the serious toper.


The Spectator parades its SF ignorance (again)

Apparently Douglas Adams is the only ever comedy science fiction writer:

Had he not died 12 years ago, Douglas Adams would have been recovering today from celebrating his 61st birthday. Yesterday, Google produced a doodle in his memory. And the Guardian published an interesting piece which declared that Adams remains the king of comedy SF, before going on to argue that he was unique, pretty much the only writer in that genre. Take a bow Mr Adams; you’re top of a league of one.

Funny that the Guardian article didn't say anything of the sort - it even cites some other SF comic writers! The point was rather that Adams broke through to a much wider audience, something that other SF comedians largely failed to do. As ever The Spectator parades its SF ignorance.

And the grandpa of SF comic writers - and writer of "And then there were none" - Eric Frank Russell needs a bit more of a hearing:

“You seem to fit the part all right. Your technical record is first-class. Your disciplinary record stinks to high heaven.' He eyed his listener blank faced. 'Two charges of refusing to obey a lawful order. Four for insolence and insubordination. One for parading with your cap on back to front. What on earth made you do that?'

I had a bad attack of what-the-hell, sir,' explained Leeming.” 

That's from 'Next of Kin" (originally published as "The Space Willies" - which I could explain but that would be too much of a spoiler) - a real laugh out loud book. Go read!


Monday, 11 March 2013

Quote of the day...on ancient heart attacks


He said the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in underground caves in modern-day Colorado and Utah, used fire for heat and cooking, producing a lot of smoke.

'They were breathing in a lot of smoke and that could have had the same effect as cigarettes,' he said.

Dr Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, clearly hasn't read the official New Puritan script! Tobacco smoke has a special and different set of poisons that make it uniquely deadly. Unlike diesel fumes, barbecues or bonfires.

However, the nannying fussbuckets got the last word - forget the evidence and carry on with the finger wagging:

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said calcified arteries could also be caused by other ailments including endocrine disorders and that it was impossible to tell from the CT scans if the types of calcium deposits in the mummies were the kind that would have sparked a heart attack or stroke.

'It's a fascinating study but I'm not sure we can say atherosclerosis is an inevitable part of ageing,'

Absolutely - how dare these researchers discover the fussbuckets might be wrong!


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Welcome to Midwich - New Puritans, schools and the brainwashing of children

The New Puritan agenda is at its most insistent in schools:

Mr Ayers also spoke out after his son had a fun-size pack of Maltesers confiscated by teachers after it was spotted in his lunch box.

My Ayers said: 'I put the Maltesers in as a weekly treat, but the school confiscated them for some reason.

'The school should be concentrating on other things rather than banning children playing games and taking their chocolate away.'

It is for the children, we're told. Not only is 'obesity' a worry but play must be purposeful - directed to the agenda of creating supine, dependent and content children. Any hint of assertiveness, any exploration of violence, and the authorities step in - only they have the power (but it is exercised oh so benignly):

Headteacher Karen Jaeggi defended the policy this week, saying: 'We actively discourage children from playing violent games or games involving imaginary weapons in the playground by explaining to them what it represents.

'Some children can be easily frightened by violent play which is often influenced by computer games and we feel that such games can have a harmful effect on young minds.'

You see what's happening here? Children are being told that only certain type of play are acceptable - making a gun with your fingers and say "pyoinng,'re dead" isn't approved.

The most worrying thing about this is the absolute certainty of the head teacher. She is sure in her belief, her faith in the new puritan message. Parents putting a pack of fun sized Maltesers in a lunch box is the root cause of obesity - leave aside that the contents of a child's lunchbox is nothing at all to do with the school. And gangs, murder and general badness comes as a result of kids playing cops and robbers - egged on by the manipulative and shady exploiters of the computer games business.

What we don't see - these extreme events give us a glimpse behind the curtain - is the every day brain washing of children in the New Puritan agenda. Whether it's misinforming them about recycling, promoting the distortion of 'fair trade' or implicit criticism of parents for drinking, smoking or eating foods that aren't approved. And all of this is wrapped up in pseudo-science and an unquestioning acceptance of whatever the New Puritan priests tell the teachers.

Welcome to Midwich.


Well Bishops, if you're concerned about poverty, do something...


...other than the trite - and frankly pathetic - option of writing a letter to the Sunday Telegraph.

The Bill will mean that for each of the next three years, most financial support for families will increase by no more than 1 per cent, regardless of how much prices rise.
This is a change that will have a deeply disproportionate impact on families with children, pushing 200,000 children into poverty. A third of all households will be affected by the Bill, but nearly nine out of 10 families with children will be hit. 

Now I appreciate that this letter has been put together by the organisation once know as the Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (and where I once worked). And that this charity, charged as it is with a mission of care for children, is bothered about the impact of government actions on those children.

However, if these 43 bishops really cared they would do something else. The bishops could give up part of their comfortable wages to the Children's Society, they could throw open the doors of their palaces to the poor and they could take food to these families who are struggling.

Having done this, the bishops could visit the rich and successful communicants in their diocese and urge acts of Christian charity upon them. They could write letters to be read out in parishes urging Anglicans to help look after these families.

But the bishops have done nothing of the sort. Instead, from their gilded pulpits they criticise, carp and wail. And then return to their fine homes and comfortable world. Maybe government should make a different decision, perhaps some few families will find it harder and the lobbying is justified. I've said before that caring is not something that can be sub-contracted to government - it has to be a personal act.

The bishop's letter would carry more weight is if started:

"Today, we have agreed to personally support families faced with poverty and we are asking others within the church to do likewise. Nevertheless, we would urge the government to amend the Benefits Uprating Bill so as to protect children..."

It didn't. So a pox on them.


Human rights and the curse of laws


The debate over the Human Rights Act and its parents - the European Court of Human Rights and the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" - is a strange one. Not because the matter of 'rights' is unimportant or even that these laws are without value but because the presumption in all of this is that rights exist only because of our masters' benevolence. The debate seems to treat 'rights' in a way little changed from the rights granted by feudal lords to their most loyal servants - somehow our rights will disappear, melt like snow in Summer, were the Human Rights Acts to be scrapped.

The state constrains rights and then allows, in its benevolence, some of those rights to be freed. The state is not the source of rights but exists - or should exist - to protect those rights. The debate shouldn't be about the existence or otherwise of rights but about the best way to ensure those rights are guarded.

Let it be known that the British liberties are not the grants of princes of parliaments, but original rights, conditions of original contracts, coequal with prerogative, and coeval with government. That many of our rights are inherent and essential, agreed on as maxims and established as preliminaries even before a parliament existed.

It does not matter at all whether we have signed some declaration, taken part in some international court or passed laws within parliament. All that matters is that our rights are protected, that we can have confidence that authorities charged with upholping those rights will do so and that this will be done without fear or favour.

This is not the case. Take Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that document that we cherish:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Does this say anything about being arrested for being rude about a diver? Or stopped from photographing a police station or an airport? Or the entire edifice now being built around 'hate crime' and 'equalities' - an edifice designed to bully people into accepting the left's newspeak rather than to deal with hate?

Perhaps there is a case for declaring some beliefs so dreadful and to merit their expression a crime - but where do we stop with defining those dreadful beliefs? And if it is right to prevent racism by making its expression a crime despite this being contrary to Article 19, surely it is also right to allow the deportation of criminals who constitute a threat to wider society despite their claim of a "right to a private and family life" under Article 8 of the UK's Human Rights Act?

In all the discussion around 'rights', there is an assumption that the Human Rights Act is intended to protect rights and not to contain fundamental rights within a body of law - to bring those rights back under the definition and purview of the state. So free speech is qualified - to such an extent that any protection of our 'right' to speak is nullified by the tools available to agents of government. The protection of "health or morals" seems so broad as to allow almost any statement ot be proscribed. And if this is not enough the Act allows the limiting of free speech to protect 'national security' and to prevent 'disorder'.

The Human Rights Act isn't a universal, sacrosanct declaration but, as with all laws, a flawed, controlling interpretation of the idea of 'rights'. The idea that changing it - even scrapping it - represents a backward step and that somehow our rights would vanish is nonsense. The most important rights - speech, movement, assembly, protest, exchange - these rights are more honoured in the breech by the Human Rights Act. The state is granted so many controls and the 'rights' are so curtailed that it's hard to see that the loss of the Act would make much difference.

In discussing 'rights' we should be talking first about what are the things that make us free and then what are the justifications for limiting somebodies freedom. Instead we indulge in an ever more occult discussion - guarded closely by lawyers - where the parsing of particular sentences and the dissecting of judges' opinions casts a thick mist over any understanding of 'rights'.

Finally, just as 'equalities' rules run the risk of being used to secure advantage, so it the case with the Human Rights Act. And because our judges care more about words than intention - such in the curse of laws - the result is decision-making that does not promote rights but that brings the protection of rights into question. To the ordinary man such inconsistencies, such egregious interpretation of 'rights' means that we run the risk of destroying protection on the altar of lawyerly pedantry.


Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bet Cllr Pullen's pleased we scrapped the Standards Board!


One of those slightly unfortunate comments on Twitter created a little storm in a teacup. George Galloway, for once, turned his eye towards Bradford to lay it on with a trowel about a Tweet by Keighley councillor, Steve Pullen:

“I don’t know who Councillor Steve Pullen is, but he’s an absolute disgrace, not just to the Labour party, but to humanity.”

Bit hard on Steve I suspect! But what a blessing it is that the Coalition scrapped the Standards Board. Had it not done so a long-winded investigation would have ensured into the Tweet doubtless culminating in some expensive lawyers trooping up to Bradford to conduct a little kangeroo court. Galloway would have loved the Standards Board!

Instead Steve's apologised, had his wrist slapped by the whips and left us the joy and pleasure of a Galloway rant!


Friday, 8 March 2013

On meeting Kenny Ball...


We met Kenny Ball - at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Took time out to talk to our son. The conversation went something like this:

 "Do you play an instrument?"

 "Yes, the flute."

"Practice every day. The only way to be good."

Wise words indeed - in any walk of life. ...


More daft 'Green Belt' nonsense...


Planners have got something of a reputation for being sticklers for the finest detail (unless of course it's a large industrial operation that's planned for that Green Belt of course) and this is a fine example of such clipboard love:

A grandmother who spent £10,000 turning a field into a landscape garden has been ordered to rip it up because it breaches greenbelt planning rules.

Planning bosses said the garden, home to fish, frogs, newts, birds, insects and a variety of plant life, 'erodes the character and quality of the area' and is 'inappropriate for the greenbelt'.

Now before we start tearing planners to shreds, let's be clear about the regulations. A garden is 'development' and therefore not permitted (without special circumstances) in the 'Green Belt'. This isn't an anti-garden thing but a protection - because the garden is 'development' this changes the status of the land and raises the possibility of it being developed for some other more permanent and intrusive use.

However, this argument (one that the planners will have waved about in this case I don't doubt) is a weak one. The land remains 'Green Belt' and the strictures on openness and the restriction on development still pertain. But, as usual, the top councillor demonstrates a worrying ignorance of the regulations and simply says:

Council planning leader, Cllr Eddie Boden, said he 'appreciates the position' the family is in but added 'planning requirements have to be obeyed'.

He said: 'No special circumstances exist to justify what has to be considered to be inappropriate development within the greenbelt.'

This statement is, quite simply, wrong. Councils have discretion, the concept of "exceptional circumstances" is not defined and councillors can override the constraints of 'Green Belt' in circumstances like this - I know this to be so because I have argued this case before planning committees and won permissions for local residents in Bingley Rural.

Mrs Bailey should submit a planning application, get her neighbours and the Town Council to turn out in force and perhaps shame this idiot councillor into allowing her to keep her garden.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Immigrants, work and the deer cull


The most depressing thing I’ve heard in a long while came in a tweet or email read out by a Radio 5 Live presenter – in response to an item on managing deer population someone had commented that we need a “human cull”. And the presenter read this out with want sounded like (but might not have been) approval.

Which humans this respondent wanted to cull wasn’t clear – maybe every tenth person, perhaps just the disabled, the sick or the lame? Rather than think for a brief second about what they were saying, someone had pinged out a comment about killing a load of people because he’d decided there were too many. I guess it was a joke!

But then I listened to a debate – well more an exchange of sound bites – between John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw and Graham Evans, Conservative MP for Weaver Vale. The subject was immigration and the two Northern MPs were in agreement on much of the discussion – there were too many immigrants, they were taking the jobs of British people and something should have been done earlier. Both MPs were adamant that there wasn’t the slightest hint of racism in what they were saying but equally keen to stress the idea that immigrants were taking British jobs, filling up British schools and costing a fortune in British hospitals.

Whatever the case about immigration – too much, too little, the wrong sort, the right sort – to blame our levels of unemployment and problems in our public services on folk who’ve arrived here from the other side of the world so as to work is what we expect from the BNP not the Labour and Conservative parties. Not only is it untrue but it’s wrong and dangerous as well.

The immigration debate has descended into a "who can be most damning of immigrants without actually being racist" contest. Currently the Labour Party is winning.


Oh I don't know Melanie...


Melanie McDonagh in the Spectator writes:

Look, tobacco is a perfectly legal stimulant. It will, taken in sufficient quantities, shorten your lifespan, but so too will drinking to excess, and we’re not yet contemplating selling Bailey’s, Gordon’s and Captain Morgan’s in indistinguishable bottles, marked only by a health warning.

If some folk get their way, that's exactly what we'll be getting:

...Iceland heavily restricts the marketing (packaging) opportunities for alcohol products. It does so by limiting the permitted text and visual imagery typically depicted on the label. The rules governing the product selection undertaken by ÁTVR (The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland) provide that packaging and labeling may only contain certain information relating to the product, its production method or its properties...

Welcome to the slippery slope folks.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

No. Immigrants aren't the NHS's problem either


Our ghastly obsession with blaming all our problems on immigrants is ridiculous and, more important, leading to these sort of decisions:

Britons could have to carry an ‘entitlement card’ to access free NHS care as part of a crackdown on health tourists, it emerged yesterday.

First I won't be carrying any sort of ID card. And second, the use of our health service by foreigners is not its biggest problem. Its biggest problem is the incompetents running the NHS. This is just another bit of chaff thrown up into the air to take attention away from the real crisis - the crisis revealed in the Francis Report. A problem that's killed hundreds, even thousands of people.


NHS response to criticism - blame the patient


Yesterday "The Doctors" were out in force. All over the airwaves, in every newspaper. Telling us that the reason we don't live as long as the Spanish is because of our terrible lifestyle decisions:

But the problem is only in part to do with hospital care – much of it is about the way we live. Our diet, our drinking and continuing smoking habits all play a part, according to one of the report's authors, Prof John Newton, chief knowledge officer of Public Health England, which assumes its responsibilities on 1 April.

The problem is that this really doesn't stack up when we look at the figures. The evils thing - the targets of nannying fussbucket disapproval - are smoking, drinking and being too fat.

First smoking. According to the OECD, the UK sits pretty close to the average (indeed slightly below the average) at 21.5% of the population smoking. The two top countries for happy and healthy life - Spain and Italy - have smoking rates of 26.2% and 23.2%. Clearly it's not the smoking.

So it's the drinking then? Well here - again - the UK is below the European average with a per capita comsumption of 10.2 litres of alcohol per capita. And those long-lived Southern Europeans? The Italians are Europe's soberest folk at just 6.9 literes per head. But the Spanish - they love the stuff and stick back 11.4 litre. Not sure it's the booze then.

Maybe is the obesity - all those Latin folk are slender and snake-hipped after all, aren't they? Well for Spain:

Adult obesity rates in Spain are higher than the OECD average, and child rates are amongst the highest in the OECD.

And Italy:

Obesity rates are low in Italy, relative to most OECD countries, but are very high among children. 1 in 3 children is overweight, one of the highest rates in the OECD.

Doesn't look like the fatness.

Just for completeness, it isn't taking illegal drugs either:

National rates range from 0.8% to 11% with the lowest rate recorded in Malta, followed by Bulgaria, Greece and Sweden. Italy has the highest rate, followed by Spain, the Czech Republic, and France. 

It really is a problem for our fussbuckets, isn't it? This I mean:

The performance of the UK in terms of premature mortality is persistently and significantly below the mean of EU15+ and requires additional concerted action.

You see the problem really isn't our lifestyles - or not so much as "The Doctors" would have us believe. The problem lies elsewhere. Perhaps we should point the finger at the scandal of Mid Staffs, the weakness of our primary care system and a health service that is over-centralised and producer-controlled?

But that wouldn't suit the producers - that would mean them stepping up and accepting responsibility for the failings of our health system. It would mean turning their cosy little world upside down and putting patients - you and me, the users of the system - in change. It would mean looking at how our neighbours run their health systems. As BoM points out:

What this study really highlights is that when it comes to health, we have a lot to learn from our neighbours. None of them have a nationalised health system, yet most of them enjoy longer healthier lives than us. Instead of pretending our healthcare system is the envy of the world, we should have the humility to look and learn.
 In the meantime we can anticipate another episode of doctors, "health professionals" and supine politicians who daren't challenge these nannying fussbuckets telling us that it's all our fault.

Faced with criticism, the NHS always blames the patient.

Monday, 4 March 2013

...and they still want to save the NHS!


Defeats me why:

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics following a Freedom of Information request, for every patient who dies from malnutrition, four more have dehydration mentioned on their death certificate. 

We really do have a problem, it isn't about management, it isn't about doctoring - it's the system. It just doesn't work well enough.


The Metis project won't solve the Conservatives' campaigning problem...


There's a belief that Barak Obama won two presidential elections because his team were super slick with the on-line campaigning. All those voter demographics and behavioural metrics were the thing that meant Republicans stood no chance.

So it's no surprise that this things are now all the rage here in the UK - here's Sebastian Payne drooling over one such system in the Spectator:

... an alternative is revealed with the Metis project. Headed up by four of Westminster’s sharpest minds, Metis is destined to become the largest and most sophisticated voter database ever built in the UK. The power of a 20 million strong list of voters has the potential to revolutionise campaigning.

And it will do this by enabling:

...political parties to run highly targeted campaigns, focusing on individual voters whose support is vital to win key seats. More importantly, it will spare householders the sort of unwelcome attention that was lavished on them by over-enthusiastic (or desperate) campaigners in Eastleigh’

This is great - it reminds me of the Asimov short story, "Franchise", where

...the computer Multivac selects a single person to answer a number of questions. Multivac will then use the answers and other data to determine what the results of an election would be, avoiding the need for an actual election to be held.

Such speculation aside, this sophisticated and targeted approach is only half the story of Obama's success - the other have is the activist, the boots on the ground:

So it was that Bird and his colleagues drew up plans to ­expand the electorate into one that could reelect Obama. In Ohio, for example, a “barber shop and beauty salon” strategy was designed to get likely Obama supporters, particularly African-Americans, to register to vote when they went for a haircut. “Faith captains” were assigned to churches to encourage parishioners to turn out for Obama. “Condo captains” were told to know every potential Obama voter in their building. The goal was like nothing seen in presidential politics: Each Obama worker would be ­responsible for about 50 voters in key precincts over the course of the campaign. By Election Day, that worker would know much about the lives of those 50 voters, including whether they had made it to the polls. Romney’s team talked about a ratio of thousands of voters per worker. It would prove to be a crucial difference.

Here lies the other half of the secret - the database that Obama's team used wasn't some clever piece of geodemographics spliced with a lifestyle database and based on questionnaire data. What they were using was real information about real people - and the contact was direct, personal and on the doorstep (or the barber's chair).

If UK political parties think that the solution is to echo Howard Dean's campaign, they are wrong. That campaign failed because it thought that political engagement on-line was everything - it wasn't and it isn't. If we run campaigns on the basis of manipulating large data sets the result will be a worse politics. And for those campaigners the approach probably won't work. Indeed, as Vince-Wayne Mitchell demonstrated years ago, you can make a large data set say almost anything you want it to say:

Suggests that a prima facie case exists for the suitability of astrology as a segmentation variable with the potential to combine the measurement advantages of demographics with the psychological insights of psychographics and to create segments which are measurable, substantial, exhaustive, stable over time, and relatively accessible. Tests the premise empirically using results from a Government data set, the British General Household Survey. The analyses show that astrology does have a significant, and sometimes predictable, effect on behavior in the leisure, tobacco, and drinks markets.

If political parties want to win they need to put boots on the ground, to collect data on the doorstep - for sure the sort of information in Metis will be useful, just as geodemographics have always been useful. To profile, to assist in targeting and to select geographically. These are relevant to politics but, just as is the case with regular marketing, a list of previous buyers - or previous voters - is much more responsive.

The task is to build that list - that is what Obama did. He did use a clever marketing database but applied on-line techniques to the age old method - speak to the voter, look him in the eye and ass; "will you vote for me?"


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Quote of the week...David Ward MP


Comes from  David Ward MP:

" someone who has run race awareness classes, I find the idea that I have been sent on some sort of correctionary course to be patronising and quite offensive.” 

David still doesn't get what he did wrong - quite amazing for someone who lays claim to anti-racist purity!


About that underage drinking...


Yesterday "The Doctors" were in full cry about alcohol and "the children":

Sir Ian Gilmore, the AHA's chair, said action was especially urgent given that UK teenagers drink much more than the European average.

Well it may be 'much more' (although, like the £55 billion 'cost to society' of alcohol, this is unevidenced and probably untrue) but it isn't very much:

Regular alcohol consumption by 11 to 15 year olds has fallen by two-thirds in the last decade - from 20% to 7% - and the proportion of these children who had ever drunk alcohol fell from 61% to 45% in the same period.

As always - and it should worry us - "The Doctors" just make stuff up about health risks knowing that reporters who stopped any studying of science at 14 will simply believe everything they're told.

Quite simply, we really don't have the problem with booze that prohibitionists and temperance campaigners like Sir Ian Gilmore would have you believe.


Sacking the boss won't make our hospitals better...


Although getting rid of the egregious Sir David Nicholson - boss of the NHS - will make us fell better and is probably the right thing to do, it won't sort out the problem.

The problem isn't money.

The problem isn't training.

The problem isn't management.

The problem is that the NHS system requires - even urges - otherwise caring people to ignore suffering and do the paperwork.

Sadly all we've done is set on a lawyer to look at the problem. And he's done what lawyers always do, propose new regulations, new systems and more paperwork. It is inevitable that a future government will set on another lawyer to look at the same problem. That lawyer will propose new regulations, new systems and more paperwork.

Sir David is a sympton of the problem - an arrogant, self-serving symptom who had he an ounce of decency would have walked - but still a symptom. Until we end the Stalinist structure of the NHS that Sir David's role typifies, it will carry on killing people.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Time for Tea! The Tories post-Eastleigh


Some people don't get it. They really think that America's Tea Party Movement is some sort of closet racist, social conservative, religious right thing.

Cameron’s problem with UKIP looks more and more like a rehearsal of the trouble the US Republicans have with the Tea Party. It feeds off grass roots energy, presenting itself as the anti-establishment, anti-politics beating heart of conservatism, which makes it very effective when it comes to local campaigning and disrupting the mainstream.

For this writer's education, let's explain. The 'tea' bit of 'Tea Party' is an acronym - Taxed Enough Already it says. And there's the point of it all - it's not anything other than a simple statement of the first principles of a free society:

Fiscal Responsibility: Fiscal Responsibility by government honours and respects the freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labour.

Constitutionally Limited Government: As the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, in all other matters we support the personal liberty of the individual, within the rule of law.

Free Markets: A free market is the economic consequence of personal liberty.

It you're in the Conservative Party and don't sign up to these beliefs then you should go join a different party. We leak voters because:

  • We force up the cost of living with a deliberate policy of inflation
  • We raise taxes on ordinary people- taking more and giving less
  • Our policies force up food, fuel and gas prices
  • We choose corporatism in the UK and in Europe over free markets
  • We hector, nanny and fuss at people rather than offer them a hand
  • We spend money overseas - on wars, on aid - rather than at home

To say that wanting this to change is extreme is nonsense - yet this should be the agenda for an English Tea Party. Fighting for lower taxes, control of inflation and a smaller, more purposeful government.