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Tuesday
Jan092007

Mill on bureaucracy

Another choice quote from JS Mill's On Liberty; one which could have been written with the NHS in mind.

Banded together as they are - working a system which, like all systems, has to proceed largely by fixed rules - the official body are under the constant temptation of sinking into indolent routine, or, if they now and then desert that mill-horse round, of rushing into some half-examined crudity which has struck the fancy of some leading member of the corps.

Tuesday
Jan092007

Reforming the NHS

The best thing I've watched on TV for months (alright, it's just about the only thing I've watched on TV for months) was Gerry Robinson's programme on reforming the NHS. The second part is on tonight at 9pm on BBC2, and it wraps up at the same time on Wednesday.

I would like to say that it was eye opening, but anyone who reads Doc Crippen knows full well what it's really like in the NHS. Confirmation of what Doc C has been saying came in spadesful, with a terrifying picture painted of an organisation which is institutionally incapable of doing its job, institutionally beyond reform. Robinson is an enthusiast for the NHS (as a Labour man, it's not surprising). He came over as a thoughtful  man and he is clearly a good businessman. But the levels of despair and depression that came over him as he realised what he was up against were a vindication for everyone who argues that the NHS is a national disgrace and cannot be reformed, but should be scrapped.

Or so I thought.

This afternoon I heard him interviewed on 5Live where he set out his position on what needs to happen now that we know the problems. Having seen what he has seen, his answers were breathtaking in their naivety. The NHS should apparently remain free at the point of use. He's not an economist then is he?  He should try reading Doctor Crippen on the subject. It needs better managers. Ah, managerialism. Everything will be alright with the right managers. Just a bit more money needed. Another blog, Stumbling and Mumbling, would put him right here.

I was left with the abiding impression that here was a man who had got stuck in the detail of a single hospital, and couldn't see the wood for the trees. He couldn't see the glaringly obvious fact that the NHS is not fit for purpose (to use a hackneyed phrase). The NHS is a zombie organisation. It's dead. Finished. We need to start again.

What we should replace it with is up for debate, or at least it would be if we had a single politician with the cojones to start one. Robinson said on the Radio 5 interview that he knew little or nothing about healthcare in other countries except that healthcare was good in the USA and France. This blindspot might explain why he thinks the NHS is reformable. He knows nothing about countries which have better systems (and in the developed world, that may well be all of them). He might try taking a look at Singapore.

But at the end of the day, Robinson has provided a valuable service, by publicising the state of the NHS and the waste of £27 billion which has been pumped into an organisation which is unreformed and unreformable. For this he deserves our thanks. 

Monday
Jan082007

Ruth Kelly

Ruth Kelly: 'I want to do the right thing for my son'

Bishop Hill: So do I, but I can't because you've taken all my money, you hypocritical cow. 

Monday
Jan082007

Vitamins and organic food

In a comment on this post at Liberty Alone (a liberal Lib Dem blog, if you didn't know), someone called A C Baker pointed out in the comments the claim of the Soil Association that modern vegetables contain lower levels of vitamins and trace minerals than in the past.

This immediately set a few alarm bells ringing, because I was pretty sure that the King's Fund researches health policy issues rather than performing scientific research. A quick look at their website confirmed that scientific research is not what they do:

The King's Fund aims to improve health and health care by developing policy, people and services. 

Bullshit detectors now sounding the alarms I followed the trail from A C Baker's original comment to its source. This turned out to be an article from the Soil Association's Information Centre, entitled What we can say - the quality and benefits of organic food. At first sight, it's a moderately impressive document with a list of references to the sources for each claim made. The section on vitamins reads:

Vitamins and minerals

No food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food.

The use of synthetic fertilisers, plant breeding, and longer delays between harvesting and consumption have led to reduced trace element and vitamin content in food.

 The reference for this is, however, a bit different to the others. It reads

2. The King’s Fund, an independent medical charity.

This is not entirely helpful. You would have thought that, as a minimum, a document title would be required. But never mind; try searching the King's Fund Website. Enter "vitamins organic vegetables" - three documents returned, nothing relevant on any of them. Search the site through Google - no joy either.

A bit of more general Googling came up with a single study which be the basis for the claim. A scientist at the University of Texas called Donald Davis found apparent declines in nutrients in a range of plants over a 50 year period. He appears to be extremely cautious about his results though.

According to Davis, establishing meaningful changes in nutrient content over a 50-year time interval was a significant challenge. The researchers had to compensate for variations in moisture content that affect nutrient measurements, and could not rule out the possibility that changes in analytical techniques may have affected results for some nutrients.

So there may be a scientific basis for the claim, but it appears to be far from proven. Which might go some way to explaining why the referencing in the Soil Association's Information Centre is so vague.

Saturday
Jan062007

What will Britain be like under Brown?

Like this, perhaps..

 brown3.gif

Thursday
Jan042007

Will Hutton, economist

Over my shoulder, as I write, the BBC is showing a programme hosted by Peter Snow and his son Dan (can't he get a job off his own back?) about the UK economy. In a section on foreign ownership of the utilities (part of our heritage according to Dan!) we were told that opinion was divided on whether it mattered that foreigners owned so many of the utilities. Digby Jones was interviewed and spoke in favour. Peter and Dan, being good BBC types, clearly felt they needed a big gun for the case against, and decided to get an economist.

Unfortunately, and not entirely unexpectedly, they don't seem to have been able to find one who agreed with the case against. So what did they do? They got Will Hutton, a left-wing journalist and former stockbroker, and put up a caption describing him as an economist. Later in the show they interviewed him again, and described him as heading an economic think tank called the Work Foundation. Its website is here. And whoops! They've been misleading us again! The Work Foundation combines roles as an HR consultancy with research into the workplace and "the knowledge economy". There are no economists on its board, or among the executive directors,  and it doesn't seem to have published anything on the economics.

This will be no surprise to anyone who follows BBC matters. If the truth doesn't fit the agenda, just lie. Nobody will notice.  

 

Thursday
Jan042007

Girl guides ain't what they used to be

There were a few raised eyebrows yesterday when the Girl Guides organisation announced that they were going to start teaching girls about safe sex, date rape and abortion. This was apparently in response to complaints from the girls that these topics were not well covered by schools. Denise King, the head of GirlGuiding UK says that the organisation needs to be discussing issues relevant to the girls' lives.

You can see it can't you: the delegations of teenagers confronting Brown Owl and demanding a class in date rape avoidance. "No baking today, Brown Owl, we need to know where to get a decent abortion".

Seriously though, does anyone really think this is really demanded by the girls. And if you are in any doubt, see this from 2001.

The `Irish Sunday People` (April 29th 2001) features a report titled `Fury over gay advice for guides`, which tells how Girl Guide leaders have sparked outrage by planning to teach innocent youngsters about LESBIANISM. Family and youth concern directory `Robert Whelan has voiced his concern saying `It goes against all the high ideals the girl guides was originally set up to promote`.

Speciallist counsellors will be recruited when Guide workers are too embarrassed to talk about sexual issues. Denise King, Deputy Chief executive for the guides has said "Our aim is to be relevent to young women".

[Emphasis is mine] 

 Ms King seems to have a bit of an agenda, doesn't she?

Thursday
Jan042007

Mill on education

A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.

On Liberty, Chapter 5. 

Unfortunately state education is, and is likely to remain, the declared policy of all major UK political parties. Is it any wonder why people are switched off by politics?

Monday
Jan012007

More madness

Via Pajamas Media, the transcript of an interview with the Editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh.

Choice excerpt:

Interviewer: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

Al Jazeera: I think so.

 Is it just me or is the whole world suddenly losing the plot? 

Monday
Jan012007

Workers to unite behind Tories

Well, according to David Cameron at least. The Boy King's latest outburst has been greeted with a mixture of bemusement and derision in most quarters, which was probably only to be expected. We still think of the Conservatives as the party of the upper classes and Labour as the party of the trades unions.

But if you stop to think about it, the Thatcher governments did more for the poorest in society than anything nearly any Conservative or Labour government has done before or since. Certainly far more than the current jokers have done.

Kerron Cross is, of course, right behind the government as a party loyalist should be.

We remember the 1980s, the 1990s, and heck we even remember what we've had so far of the 2000s. We remember their anti-worker policies and positions and how they let down the poorly paid.

Unfortunately he doesn't explain what these anti-worker policies were supposed to have been, but let's just get a grip shall we? Telephone bills fell through the floor after privatisation. Was that anti-worker? Of course not; only a fool would suggest otherwise. Foreign holidays on cheap airlines? Attacks on the working classes are they? They didn't exist in the seventies because airline tickets were the exclusive preserve of the rich and you could barely take currency out of the country, thanks to Labour's "pro-worker" currency controls. Privatisation was the most pro-worker policy for decades, transforming the lifestyles of millions of people for the better.

Kerron goes on to ask of the Tories:

For example if you want a better standard of living for the poor, why did you oppose the minimum wage?

Because basic economics says that a minimum wage will lead to a reduction in demand for labour from the low paid? Hours will be reduced or jobs lost. You can argue that it won't happen, in the same way that you can argue that the world is flat, but nobody is going to take you very seriously. Now Labour has set the MW pretty low, so there may have been no effect, but if there was no effect then the policy was only a gesture, rather than the policy triumph its supporters claim. Meanwhile, the evidence is that there has been a reduction in hours. Kerron needs to face it: the minimum wage is more of an anti-worker policy than anything the Tories ever did.

Why did you oppose the working families tax credit and child credit?

Because they were predicted to be an over-complicated shambles, as indeed they have turned out to be?  I would have thought a Labour supporter would have wanted to keep quiet about tax credits.

Why did you allow unemployment to hit 3million last time you were in power[?].

And there you have it, gentle reader: Labour's top blogger believes that the high unemployment of the 1980s and 90s was a deliberate anti-worker policy of the Conservative party.  Call it incompetence and you might make a case, but surely this is plain bonkers. And they call the Tories the "stupid party"!

Thursday
Dec282006

Hat tips

Just a word to give credit for the civil liberties section of the previous post. Large chunks of this were lifted from this post at Blogzilla, and from the comments on it by WTWU of Spy Blog fame.

Thursday
Dec282006

The Eighty-Five Theses

As your government totters towards its end, Prime Minister, it is time to begin an assessment of the damage you have done to the country. I set down here some of your least glorious acheivements. There is little with which to balance them, on the credit side of the ledger.

  1. Your government, Prime Minister, has continuously and systematically attacked the civil liberties for which generations of Britons have fought.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec272006

Hunting ASBOs

Via The Englishman, an article in the Telegraph which reports that the League Against Cruel Sports are going to try to use ASBOs against foxhunts.

Asbos could be served for trespassing, parking 4x4 vehicles in country lanes and "aggressive behaviour" by huntsmen and hounds against people and pets, said the league which has managed only one successful private prosecution since the Act came into force in February 2005.

This is of course what civil libertarians have always said was the major problem with ASBOs. They require so little by way of proof that they become a route to oppress those who can't be convicted of anything, either because of a lack of evidence or because they haven't actually done anything wrong. Either way, the Government doesn't care, it just wants them dealt with and a headline secured.

Fortunately their chances of success seem slim:

But Andrew Keogh, a Manchester solicitor who edited Asbo Law Reports, said: "The easiest [complaint] to go for would be dogs barking or being unruly. But I view the chances of success as very slim indeed."

This is good news. It wouldn't surprise me though to see the hunts try the same approach on the League Against Cruel Sports, whose approach to "peaceful" protest seems be exactly the kind of behaviour that ASBOs were created to deal with.  This would obviously be immensely cheering in terms of rubbing their noses in it, but it wouldn't be much of a victory for liberal England.

Wednesday
Dec202006

A thought

If Lord Levy is found guilty, presumably he will be stripped of his peerage, like Jeffrey Archer was?

Wednesday
Dec202006

Control of public sector spending

Chris Dillow wonders if Gordon Brown is actually in control of public sector spending, the unwritten suggestion being that he isn't.

In order for an organisation to be in control of spending, it has to have a time phased budget, and regular reports of its performance against budget. For a group of organisations like the government the results of the individual units have to be consolidated to give an overall picture of the group performance.

As far as I know, most public sector organistions are not able to produce accurate management accounts within a reasonable time after the period end. The government is certainly not able to produce consolidated accounts at any time, let alone monthly. Huge corrections at the year end are the norm, rather than the exception.

How then can it even be suggested that the government is in control of its spending?